Carnival’s Costa Cruises cancels Asia trips amid uncertainties over China’s zero-Covid policy
- Costa Cruises said it was cancelling ‘future Asian home ports cruise programmes’ because of continuing uncertainties
- The company had built two massive ships exclusively for the Asian market, but plans to deploy them did not materialise
Costa Cruises, a unit of cruising giant Carnival that targets the nascent Chinese market, is cancelling all future Asia departures amid waning expectations Beijing will ease its zero-tolerance Covid policy and border restrictions any time soon.
“As a result of continuing uncertainties regarding the full restart of international cruises in East Asia, Costa Cruises has decided to reorganise its structure in the region,” the Genoa, Italy-based company said in a statement, adding it was cancelling “future Asian home ports cruise programmes”.
Though the company did not reference China, Costa had big plans to tap consumers there and was the first cruise company to enter the country in 2006.
It built two massive ships exclusively for the market, with plans for a 2021 debut of the Costa Firenze in Asia never materialising and redeployed to Europe as Chinese leaders adopted the zero-Covid policy to deal with the pandemic.
Hopes of China easing its strict Covid restrictions dimmed after the leadership shuffle over the weekend at the once-in-five-years Communist Party congress.
President Xi Jinping gave no indication he is looking to depart from a pandemic approach that is leaving China increasingly isolated, with lockdowns, compulsory quarantine and restrictions on entering and leaving the country still very much in place.
Chinese tourism stocks, along with Asian equities, slumped on Monday, even after Bloomberg reported last week officials were looking at easing the mandatory quarantine policy for those coming into China.
China has allowed limited cruise operations domestically for mainland residents since the onset of Covid-19, with most taking place on inland rivers and along some local coastlines.
It recently allowed a domestic operator to restart a cruise to the disputed Paracel Islands, which Vietnam also claims in the South China Sea.
Costa Cruises said it is informing employees and local stakeholders in Asia affected by the reorganisation and cancellation of Asian cruises. The company’s website for the Asia market generated an error message on Monday.
In February, the company touted plans to resume cruising in the region this year. Previously, it had port stops in China and Hong Kong as well as Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.
Some of the earliest mass Covid outbreaks occurred on cruise ships, leading to an effective global suspension of the industry. While cruises have started to return in other parts of the world – some still requiring vaccination and virus testing – Asia has been slower to dismantle pandemic barriers that helped much of the region avert the higher death tolls seen in places like the US.
China, in particular, has staked political credibility on avoiding Covid fatalities, making exiting the current strategy difficult.