Royal Caribbean bookings take a hit as Omicron fears worsen

(Reuters) -Royal Caribbean Group said on Thursday it was grappling with a drop in bookings and a rise in cancellations as COVID-19 cases surge in the United States, driven by the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

U.S. cruise ships have been gradually returning to the seas since late June, but an increase in Omicron cases has sparked calls for a temporary ban on cruising, including from Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat.

Since the Celebrity Cruises parent resumed operations from U.S. ports in June, the company’s cruise ships have ferried 1.1 million passengers, with 1,745 people testing positive for COVID-19 and 41 being hospitalized.

“Our case count has spiked, but the level of severity is significantly milder,” Royal Caribbean’s chief medical officer, Calvin Johnson, said.

The company said load factors for sailings in the first half of 2022 remain below historical levels, although it said the recent disruption was not as severe as that experienced during the Delta variant wave earlier this year.

Royal Caribbean shares rose nearly 2% in early morning trade as it said bookings for the second half of 2022 continue to be within historical ranges.

Some cruise liners recently had to hold off on disembarking passengers due to active COVID-19 cases on board, or to bring in more workers as a precautionary measure.

Royal Caribbean said on Thursday it was seeing disruptions at some destinations and that it had canceled or “significantly modified” 16 destination calls out of 331.

The company also said disruptions brought on by the Omicron variant and its impact on labor availability were hurting its ability to offer some onboard services.

Carnival Corp’s Cunard unit on Wednesday said its Queen Mary 2 cruise would miss a scheduled stop at New York and extend its stay in Barbados.

(Reporting by Deborah Sophia in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva)