Royal Caribbean Provides Support During the COVID-19 Pandemic 

In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world at a devastating rate, impacting millions and bringing global business to a halt. For everyone’s health and safety, Royal Caribbean Group suspended their operations and instead focused on providing relief to their community of employees and partners.


COVID-19 Brings Sailing to a Standstill

When 2020 first began, Royal Caribbean Group anticipated a year of new adventures and great success. Construction on Odyssey of the Seas was underway, Celebrity Apex was scheduled for its maiden voyage in the summer, and millions of passengers were looking forward to sailing with Royal Caribbean.

Unfortunately, those cruises were destined to be delayed. The COVID-19 outbreak quickly grew into a global pandemic, and the world had a responsibility to take action.

In March, Royal Caribbean Group made the difficult decision to suspend operations around the world, cancelling all upcoming cruises. While the loss in revenue would be hard, they knew that the health and safety of their guests and crew must always come first.

“It was an unbelievable time when we first started this,” said Michael Bayley, President and CEO of Royal Caribbean International. “Our entire business stopped. Suddenly, we were talking to people all over the world—ports, commercial contracts, you name it—and we didn't really know what the future was going to look like. Nobody knew.”

At the time, Royal Caribbean was optimistic and hoped to return to service by April. All of the guests at sea were quickly returned home, and the onboard crews patiently waited for good news. But as weeks became months, it became clear that the COVID-19 pandemic was not slowing down—and that sailing wouldn’t return any time soon.

Faced with zero revenue for the foreseeable future, Royal Caribbean needed a strategy to reduce their operating costs and keep the company afloat. Their only option was to cut down on crew, keeping ships at the minimum staffing level to maintain their operations. Royal Caribbean was forced to lay off or furlough many contracted workers and approximately 26% of their U.S. employees.

Even then, Royal Caribbean still employed over 85,000 people from 60% of world nationalities—who all depended on them for support during the pandemic.

“It’s been an incredibly difficult year,” said Richard Fain, Chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Group. “Nobody understood the implications for society. But throughout this period, our mantra of continuous improvement has really done us well… from creating the Healthy Sail Panel to repatriating our crew.”

Royal Caribbean Crew Members Return Home

With operations suspended and no end of the pandemic in sight, Royal Caribbean’s first priority was returning crew members to their home countries. However, they faced many unexpected legal and geo-political hurdles along the way that slowed down the repatriation process.

As the COVID-19 outbreak worsened across the globe, hundreds of nations decided to close their borders. These new regulations and travel restrictions were designed to protect their citizens, but they also made it difficult for the people at sea to return to their homes and families.

“It’s really hard to convey the complexity of the process,” said Richard Fain, Chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Group. “Our crew come from more than 100 countries around the world with widely different safety protocols and travel restrictions. This [turned] what should be a simple task into a monumental one.”

Repatriation plans must abide by each nation’s unique health and safety regulations. So, Royal Caribbean worked with local and international government entities from more than 60 countries to ensure they complied with all local policies. Their team worked around the clock to navigate the ever-changing situation, bringing crew members home on chartered aircrafts and Royal Caribbean’s own cruise ships.

This herculean effort took months of tireless work, but Royal Caribbean ensured that no crew was left behind. And after six long months, Royal Caribbean could proudly say that they returned all 45,000 crew members to their homes safely.

It would be nearly another year before the Royal Caribbean ships set sail again. But until it was time to come back onboard, crew members were able to spend valuable time with their families.

Royal Caribbean Promotes Employee Health and Well-Being

While their operations were suspended, Royal Caribbean focused their efforts on supporting the 85,000 employees who rely on them. More than ever, the pandemic emphasized how important it is to provide virtual and remote support services. After all, COVID-19 forced many people to stay at home, forgoing their usual health care while they remained isolated.

To solve this problem, Royal Caribbean gave employees access to new, virtual medical benefits, including both Teladoc and an emergency Employee Assistance Program. Teladoc allows employees to speak to a doctor anytime and anywhere via phone or video consultations. This offers an affordable, convenient way to treat health issues without needing to visit in person. Employees can even arrange to have their prescriptions delivered directly to their home.

Meanwhile, the Employee Assistance Program was designed to help employees and their families in times of need. Through LifeWorks, Royal Caribbean offers 24/7 phone and online assistance with everything from legal problems to debt management. They connect employees with trained advisors who can answer questions, give referrals, and provide helpful resources.

Through the EAP, Royal Caribbean also provides free, confidential counseling for personal and emotional issues. While isolation kept people safe from COVID-19, it also led to an overall decline in mental health. That’s why this program connects employees with professional counselors who can help them fight depression, manage stress, navigate family conflicts, address substance abuse, and cope with grief or loneliness.

This counseling is available through telephone, video, and in-person visits, so employees can quickly access the assistance they need. Lifeworks also offers digital health resources, including hundreds of articles, webinars, and tools to improve one’s overall well-being. They even created content specifically for the pandemic to help people cope with this traumatic time.

In spite of the company’s operations standstill, they further supported employees by absorbing healthcare premium increases for the year, understanding employees were dealing with multitude of situations and their well-being  is paramount.

Royal Caribbean also expanded their online learning opportunities for employees, so they could remotely hone their skills and further develop their education. These additional resources included access to new LinkedIn Learning classes from expert instructors. One of the most valuable resources they offered during the pandemic was a class on Building Resilience that taught employees how to bounce back from difficult situations.

Relief Efforts Support The Cruise Community

Royal Caribbean Group has a robust history of helping others during times of hardship and natural disaster. From hurricane relief to employee funds, they care about giving back to their community and doing their part to make a difference.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the pause in sailing put a financial strain on the entire cruising community, including travel agents and destinations around the world. So, Royal Caribbean worked with local communities to support their businesses and provide humanitarian relief.

In 2020, Royal Caribbean donated 675,000 lbs. of food to The Bahamas Feeding Network to feed 500,000 local families. In Alaska, they matched a donation from the Alaska Native community to support the Hoonah Community Center. And Royal Caribbean’s small business grants helped support entrepreneurs at Labadee, Haiti, and Perfect Day at CocoCay.

Royal Caribbean also dedicated $40 million to support the travel agent community during the pandemic. In March 2020, they launched RCL Cares, a new program to educate thousands of travel professionals about available recovery resources. Then, in December, they expanded the program to include the “Pay It Forward” initiative, which offers interest-free loans to help agencies rebuild their businesses.

“One thing that drove us through this was… this kind of belief that we must do the right thing,” said Michael Bayley, President and CEO of Royal Caribbean International. “We know that many of these destinations have been massively, negatively impacted by zero tourism… and many small Mom-and-Pop businesses were struggling to pay the rent. We were able to provide real meals—food on people’s tables.”

This relief plan was a multipronged approach to help the cruising community, but one of their impactful initiatives has been the Royal Caribbean Group employee relief fund. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Royal Caribbean has provided $21 million in emergency funding for employees who were severely impacted by COVID-19.

So far, over 33,000 employees from 78 countries have received financial support through the relief fund. These employees have lost their homes, faced hospitalization, and coped with death because of COVID-19. With this financial support, Royal Caribbean hopes to provide some solace and help families recover from this tragedy. 

“This terrible disease has brought so much pain to so many people,” said Richard Fain, Chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Group. “It’s causing suffering to our employees, our guests… our communities. We’ve tried to be a small part of ameliorating that.”

Vaccinations Lead to a Healthy Return to Sailing

After 15 long months, Royal Caribbean Group is finally ready to set sail again. The Healthy Sail Panel has helped improve their already rigorous safety measures with enhanced cleaning, contact tracing, and a rapid response plan. This ensures that every ship is a controlled environment, ready to protect its passengers in the rare instance of a breakthrough case. But this healthy return to sailing is only possible thanks to everyone who’s been vaccinated—a number that rises every day.

In February of 2021, Royal Caribbean promised that their entire crew would be vaccinated before setting sail, and everyone has been eager to make that goal a reality. Many crew members quickly took initiative and got vaccinated in their home country, doing their part to protect our community.

However, some crew members were unable to access the vaccine at home. For their sake, Royal Caribbean organized opportunities for their employees to get vaccinated, so they could safely rejoin the crew when cruising began again.

Fortunately, many ports around the world started welcoming ships for mass vaccinations. Royal Caribbean ships have sailed into ports like Miami and Port Canaveral, providing vaccines for hundreds of employees at once. Through opportunities like these, Royal Caribbean has helped vaccinate over 40,000 of their employees across the globe.

“The cruise industry is springing forth as we restart in the U.S. and elsewhere!” said Richard D. Fain, Royal Caribbean Group chairman and CEO. “I can’t repeat often enough how grateful we are to all of the people who helped us get to this amazing day. Our employees have stepped up time and again throughout the last year to do whatever it took to get our crews home and keep our ships safe and operational.”

The COVID-19 pandemic was a global crisis unlike anything our world has seen before, and the virus remains a threat until everyone is safely vaccinated. But thanks to all of their dedicated employees, Royal Caribbean was able to weather the storm.  

With operations suspended, Royal Caribbean focused on protecting the cruise community and supporting their employees. In return, everyone worked together to stay safe and overcome this time of hardship. Now, Royal Caribbean Group looks forward to welcoming everyone back onboard and returning stronger than ever before.

“One thing that shone through then and shines through today is [everyone’s] incredible teamwork… the optimism of all of our employees all over the world and their can-do attitude. We all went on this journey together,” said Michael Bayley, President and CEO of Royal Caribbean International.

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