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Royal Caribbean occupancy rises and, after half a million cruisers, just 150 COVID cases

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From left, Jason Liberty, Richard Fain, Michael Bayley
With more than 500,000 passengers carried, Royal Caribbean Group has experienced just 150 COVID-19 cases on its ships.

If there was any doubt, the protocols are working.

The fact that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention intends to make the conditional sailing order voluntary from mid-January is 'very welcome. Our own requirements and protocols are stricter than the CSO anyhow,' Royal Caribbean Chairman and CEO Richard Fain said Friday.

CDC's confidence will give confidence to the market

'The confidence, though, that the CDC is demonstrating will help give confidence to the market,' he added.

Now it's looking like there will be no 'new normal,' Fain said, with the shipboard experience very much as it was pre-COVID.

It's still not a normal travel environment, though. International customer sourcing, a historic strength for Royal Caribbean, has been curtailed by national restrictions but is now starting to build back.

Continued unease about longer trips

Fain noted there's still 'uneasiness' about longer, international trips.

2022 deployment is more weighted to the US and Canada, and there will be more sourcing of Europeans for European inventory.

Load factor up five-seven points per month

The company is increasing load factor by five to seven points per month, EVP/CFO Jason Liberty told analysts during today's third quarter earnings call. The CSO isn't governing this; rather, it's due to 'thoughtfully ramping up business based on health and safety, guest experience and doing things in a financially prudent way.'

According to Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley, there's widespread acknowledgment of cruising's health safety success and 'we will continue our ongoing collaboration with the CDC in terms of the protocols that we'll volunatarily operate after the CSO expires.'

Bayley called the CDC relationship 'very constructive,' and the agency is aware that some protocols will 'naturally fall away' as the pandemic recedes. So, moving into 2022, things will become 'easier and less cumbersome for our customers.'

41 of 60 ships in service

Royal Caribbean Group currently has 41 of its 60 ships — more than 65%  — in service.

'Operationally and logistically, we've already climbed over that mountain and we have a large number of our assets available for booking,' Bayley said, adding that all crew are vaccinated and most have been brought back on board.

Load factors on core itineraries are expected to reach 65% to 70% and 60% to 65% overall during Q4 when Royal Caribbean Group projects 6.9m available passenger cruise days.

Bayley said last weekend Freedom of the Seas sailed from Miami at 85% occupancy. That's a ship focused on the new-to-cruise market so it's being watched very closely.

Day by day, travel restrictions are easing and becoming more consistent. This consistency and stability are important after 18 months of cancellations and changes.

'Everything is turning very positive'

'Now, everything is turning very positive,' Bayley said. 'Across all the different itineraries and destinations, there's a leveling out of protocols and reasonableness, and you can feel that now coming through in the bookings.'

This positive news, he added, 'will be critical as we get into wave [season].'

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