It would be tough to disagree that of all the workboat sectors — even the depressed offshore oil and gas business — the passenger vessel industry has been hit the hardest by Covid-19.
In just one short year, passenger vessels have gone from arguably the hottest workboat sector to the coldest. A year ago, the industry was riding a long winning streak, with several operators reporting their best years in decades. With operators adding new boats and routes, the biggest challenge for many companies was finding employees, especially ones who would show up for work on time.
In Dale DuPont’s WorkBoat cover story last year, John Groundwater, executive director of the Passenger Vessel Association (PVA), said “operators from all passenger vessel industry market segments reported strong 2019 seasons” and have been “adding vessels to their fleets as well as upgrading facilities.”
PVA’s membership also grew, adding about 50 new companies in 2019.
This year, PVA estimates that lost revenue for the U.S. passenger vessel industry through the end of 2020 will be between $5 billion and $10 billion. Business for many has dropped 90% from previous years.
But people are ready to return to the water and operators are optimistic.
“Everybody’s really pissed off they’re stuck in their houses,” said Capt. Jeff Stewart Sr. of Cape May Whale Watcher in New Jersey.
“There’s a tremendous amount of pent-up demand,” said Capt. Troy Manthey, CEO of Yacht StarShip and Pirate Water Taxi, Tampa, Fla. “We’re going to see a very quick return to individuals purchasing tickets.”
“People are seeing a vaccine starting to be distributed, and that’s given them a lot of hope. We’re getting a lot of calls from people believing they’re going to be in Alaska in 2021, and we believe that, too,” said Capt. Dan Blanchard, owner and CEO, UnCruise Adventures, Seattle.
With wide distribution of a vaccine, Groundwater said, “customers will once again look to U.S. passenger vessels for entertainment and transportation that will begin fueling a return to normalcy beginning in the spring of 2021.”
For these operators, let’s hope so.