As one of the fastest growing sectors of the tourism industry, the cruise industry welcomed 30 million passengers in 2019, but that all came to a halt last year after so many Corona problems on board a few ships.
Overcoming the bumps
If it were up to the cruise lines, we’d soon be back at the pier. They want to start, with many extra safety measures. However, there are still some hurdles to overcome.
For example, only fully vaccinated guests will be allowed on Norwegian Cruise Ships (NCL) and Seabourn Cruises ships this summer. So the possibility of a cruise vacation depends on the success and speed of vaccination campaigns.
Harry Somer, president and CEO of NCL, has a positive outlook. “Europe is already lagging behind the United States in terms of vaccination, but we will not start the cruises until the end of July. Then the situation will improve greatly.”
In addition to the requirement that only vaccinated guests can come, the following measures also apply in the first months: sailing is not at full capacity, people are tested on arrival and departure, and social distancing is performed. Disembarkation is only possible with an organized excursion, there are more medical staff and an ICU on board and the vessel is constantly disinfected.
Somer says: “I cannot promise that there will never be another case of Corona on board, but with all these modifications it will be very exceptional and it will be a source of concern to some.”
Seabourn Cruises, part of Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest cruise company, is also confident. “Anyone who’s been on a cruise knows cleanliness is of the utmost importance. It has grown,” said Niko Bleacherot, Europe Director for Seabourn and Holland America Line.
Ships waiting everywhere
Holland America Line and Seabourn ships are strategically located around the world ready for startup. All with about a hundred crew members on board.
“The ship and the engines have to be maintained. They are big ships, so they need a lot of people,” Bleacherot explains. Moreover, the ship could not remain stationary and would have to sail at times for a while.
It’s a big operation to resupply and prepare cruise ships for departure, so sailing with all ships at the same time wouldn’t be an option anyway. After a cautious start, companies are hoping to be able to expand slowly.
“I think once we get really started, confidence will return in people who still have doubts. They might want to see evidence that things are really going well,” Somer says. “That’s fine. We have to start somewhere.”
This confidence must also be present in all the destinations where cruises want to anchor. “We depend on what the countries decide: will they open to tourism, and will the ports open as well? At the moment, there are different rules for every country,” Bleacherot explains. In America, the cruise sector relies on the green light from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the US RIVM.
To frustrate the industry, the CDC still doesn’t want to make a statement on its start date. “It takes three months to prepare a ship for departure, so we need some kind of plan,” Sumer says.
2022 reservations are fast going
NCL International sails with seventeen ships worldwide. The company made a loss of $ 4 billion in 2020, but it is now slowly recovering.
The NCL annual report shows that reservations for 2022 are moving fast. And people are already daring to do this next summer. “Some cruises have already been booked this summer in full in two days,” Sommer says.
Bleacherot also notes that people are looking forward to it again. “Cruises can be booked very early and we’re seeing that happen. A lot of people are pushing their cruise plans into the next year,” he says.
Reputable expert Paul Stamsnider is no surprise that people are eager to go on a cruise again. The fierce images of cruise ships floating for days or even weeks at sea due to the Corona outbreak do not always cause fear.
“People are opportunistic,” explains Stamsnider. “Misery is seen as a thing of the past. Now it’s different and they just want to enjoy themselves again. In this sense, people’s memory is short.”
Damage to reputation
Sumer suspects that the cruise industry as a whole has definitely suffered some damage to its reputation, which is why they say at NCL they are working harder to restore confidence. “It’s one of the reasons we’ve expanded our security protocol so much,” he says.
It’s a smart move, says Stamsnider. “If airlines want to do something with their reputation, they’ll have to take extra legal action. So do more than is absolutely necessary. To really give the traveler a sense of security.”
First cruises from Greece
By taking these additional steps, the cruise lines are also making themselves more reliable in the long run, Stamsniider believes. “Because if there was another outbreak on a cruise ship, it wouldn’t be an accident, but a pattern. And that is death in the container,” he explains.
Both NCL and Seabourn cruises start from Greece, along the Greek Islands. The Holland America Line may also start in the Mediterranean, but no formal decision has yet been made.
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