Royal Caribbean Assembles Experts to Help Keep Guests Safe at Sea

When business across the globe grinded to a halt in response to COVID-19, two competing cruise leaders came together to formulate a plan. Their efforts and findings are now guiding the rest of the industry toward calmer waters.



It would be nearly impossible to name an industry that hasn’t been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. From healthcare to hospitality, no business or sector has been spared. Tourism took one of the biggest hits, as people everywhere hunkered down at home and even long-held travel plans were abandoned in exchange for our health and safety.

As the world awaited information and instruction, the cruise industry was faced with growing uncertainty. What would it take to keep everyone healthy – onboard and at port? How can cruising resume safely in today’s ever-evolving climate?

At Royal Caribbean, optimism was key in keeping everyone hopeful about the cruise industry’s future.

“We have undoubtedly lived through one of the most extraordinary crises in modern history and we feel the painful and profound impact it has had on our world and our business,” said Richard Fain, Royal Caribbean Group chairman and CEO. “Yet, through the efforts of our people and the resilience I see in the communities that we touch, I am optimistic that we will soon defeat this disease and open up the world again for travel.”

Knowing that true innovation would require collaboration, Royal Caribbean decided the best way forward was to act as a community. That meant setting competition aside and pairing up with a fellow industry leader.


With health and safety as the highest priority, Royal Caribbean partnered with one of their largest competitors, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. Together, the two companies would lead a group of the world’s top public health experts to form the industry’s first Healthy Sail Panel. At the helm would be a top expert from each cruise operator.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb is former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the chairman of Norwegian’s company-specific Sail Safe Global Health and Wellness Council. Governor Mike Leavitt is former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and an expert advisor to Royal Caribbean Group. The two cruise lines agreed to fund and organize the Healthy Sail Panel, and selected Gov. Leavitt and Dr. Gottlieb to lead the panel as co-chairs and recruit its members.


The Healthy Sail Panel was formed to ensure that the cruise industry’s health and safety standards reflect the best available science, technology and engineering practices, and meet or exceed the requirements of global regulators, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Our mantra of continuous improvement has really done us well, because this is a time when you needed agility.”

Richard Fain, chairman and CEO, Royal Caribbean Group

Gov. Leavitt and Dr. Gottlieb would work with the expert panel they assembled to develop detailed recommendations to guide public health and preventative measures relevant to cruise ship travel. This information would be “open source” and available to the entire cruise industry to use as needed.

With a goal set and a plan laid out, the two leaders carefully selected their panel members.


Gov. Leavitt and Dr. Gottlieb sought a diverse group of leading experts with directly relevant experience in the challenges the industry faces. Each Healthy Sail Panel member was able to offer deep insight in their respective fields of medical practice and research, public health, medical policy, infectious disease control, hospitality management and maritime operations.

The responsibility of the panel was to dissect every aspect of the cruise ecosystem and find ways to innovate in response to the pandemic. Over the course of four months, they met, researched, discussed and collaborated, ultimately landing on what they believe to be the most effective, scientifically sound ways to evolve the cruise experience into one that is healthier and safer for all.

The panel’s guidance in these five areas was presented as a 69-page, detailed report covering 74 specific recommendations for the cruise industry, and other related sectors, to adopt.

September 2020 – The Healthy Sail Panel, a group of globally recognized experts assembled by Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., has concluded cruising can be safer in the current health environment with a robust set of science-backed protocols. Through research and their relevant experience in various disciplines including public health, infectious diseases, biosecurity, hospitality and marine operations, the panelists have outlined more than 70 recommendations. Take a look at the five focus areas the group has identified in collaboration with co-chairs Governor Mike Leavitt, former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

Among the recommendations were:

  • Taking aggressive measures to prevent SARS-CoV-2 from entering a ship through robust education, screening and testing of both crew and guests prior to embarkation
  • Reducing transmission via air management strategies and enhanced sanitation practices
  • Implementing detailed plans to address positive infection on board, including contingencies for onboard treatment, isolation and rapid evacuation and repatriation
  • Closely controlling shore excursions
  • Enhanced protection for crew members

“The Panel’s recommendations are grounded in the best scientific and medical information available and are intended to meaningfully mitigate public health risks to those who sail.”

Governor Mike Leavitt 

The Healthy Sail Panel shared these detailed findings and recommendations widely ensure the entire travel industry has the tools necessary to contribute to a global resumption of travel.


Royal Caribbean quickly got to work implementing the panel’s recommendations across their fleet. After months of careful planning and collaboration with health and tourism authorities, the cruise operator successfully resumed sailing in Europe and Singapore. After a long wait, guests, crew and the communities the ships visited could return to the familiar, safe and memorable experience that cruising offers.

To ensure continued progress, Royal Caribbean appointed their first Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Calvin Johnson, to oversee global health and wellness policies. Dr. Johnson will develop evolving strategic plans that integrate public health considerations into all facets of the business.

Royal Caribbean has also partnered with the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the National Strategic Research Institute to study how ventilation systems can keep indoor air clean. Based on those findings, the cruise line made upgrades to their systems across the fleet.

Major investments in technology, improved working relationships with governments plus a reallocation of capital to ensure safety is funded first is what Royal Caribbean believes will allow the cruise industry to bounce back.

“We are confident about the ability of Royal Caribbean Group to recover and return to the positive growth we had before the pandemic. The decline in cases and the growing availability of vaccines are encouraging and give me hope that we can soon get back to making unforgettable memories and showing the world to our guests.”

Richard Fain, chairman and CEO, Royal Caribbean Group

The Healthy Sail Panel’s well-informed findings, along with Royal Caribbean’s ever-growing guest loyalty, are showing the business on track for a strong recovery from the extraordinary obstacles of the past year.

2021 will continue to be a year to fine-tune the cruise industry’s safety strategy. As new insights emerge, Royal Caribbean plans to continue to evolve protocols and standards as needed to protect lives and keep ships at sea.

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