We can’t sugar-coat it, the cruise industry has already had the toughest year it has ever faced.
Following the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, major cruise lines have been forced to temporarily suspend sailings, taking their ships off the water and safely repatriating customers from around the world.
This year’s most exciting new ships – including Celebrity Apex and Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady – have delayed their inaugural seasons, as have many new river vessels.
It’s a situation unlike anything we have ever seen, with new twists and turns every day. But if there’s one thing this pandemic has made us realise, it’s that the cruising community will always stick together, bound by hope, mutual support and a shared love for travel.
“Our colleagues across the cruise industry, and the communities we serve, are confronting a challenge that is unprecedented in scale,” says Andy Harmer, UK and Ireland director for trade body CLIA.
“As we face the prospect of new restrictions impacting on our daily lives, we are all being put to the test, and I’m proud to say that our cruising community has stepped up to the challenge.”
While the industry may seem to have ground to a halt, the cruise lines are doing all they can behind the scenes to make future sailings even safer, and to keep passengers updated and informed about itinerary changes and scheduled future sailings.
“The cruise industry is a strong, close-knit community, and at heart, it’s a people business,” continues Andy Harmer. “Whether you are a crew member working onboard a ship, or your role is shoreside, in a port, office, or travel agency, we all rely on each other to give our customers the best travel experience possible.”
During this period of uncertainty, one thing we can be sure of is that the cruise industry will come out of it stronger and more prepared than ever before, with even stricter health and safety protocols, and redoubled focus on passenger welfare.
Health and safety first
When we do finally make it back on board, the health and safety of all cruise guests will be prioritised like never before.
Cruise ships have always maintained the highest standards in this respect, with hand sanitisers round every corner, gloved staff serving food, and stringent health and safety procedures.
But after the pandemic, we can be certain that cruise lines will work even harder to safeguard the health and wellbeing of every passenger.
“Outbreaks of illness, such as sickness bugs, can occur when you get large numbers of people in relatively small spaces,” says Dr Dan Bunstone, chief medical officer at online GP service Push Doctor.
“Coronavirus can have much more serious implications, and even be a threat to life, so when the curve of this pandemic has been suppressed and we return to situations involving large crowds of people – such as cruise ships – practising responsible hygiene will be more important than ever.”
Dr Bunstone’s advice is that we should all try to learn from the coronavirus crisis and become more aware on our future travels.
“To make sure you stay safe and healthy on your next cruise, always remember to wash your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds to avoid the spread of germs.”
CLIA’s Andy Harmer is also conscious that the cruise industry’s operating procedures will be in the spotlight like never before.
“Cruise lines will work even harder to adhere to health and safety following the outbreak,” he says.
“The Covid-19 virus has presented the whole world with a new challenge, and our industry’s already strict protocols have been strengthened throughout, under the guidance of international health authorities, as the world learns more about the unprecedented difficulties now facing us all.”
What the cruise lines are saying
Like all cruise companies, Royal Caribbean has been hard hit by the coronavirus crisis. But the line is using this period of uncertainty to grow, improve and look forward.
“In the words of our CEO, Richard Fain, is the world coming to an end because of this? No,” says company vice president Ben Bouldin.
“And while it may seem difficult to do so, Richard Fain’s advice is to take a step back and breathe. There is a long road ahead of us. By accepting this we can start to work together to overcome the challenges we face.”
Showing that Royal is putting its passengers first, Bouldin continues: ‘It’s important that all actions taken during this time build and retain long-term trust, even if in the short term these decisions may seem unnerving.
“When we do come out the other side of this, as an industry it’s our job to reassure guests that it’s still safe to cruise. We know the importance of on-board hygiene and the stringent measures we take – both in the wake of the virus and as standard. We must not lose sight of this.”
In the meantime, he adds, a sense of proportion is key.
“At Royal Caribbean, we are considering our new circumstances daily, while keeping them in perspective, and we are rejigging our plans as necessary. But at the same time, we know this will pass, and that when it does we will be prepared to move forward.”
A similar message emerges from Viking Cruises, which was among the first major ocean lines to suspend its sailings for the duration of the crisis, putting passenger and crew welfare first.
Chairman and founder Torstein Hagen says the cruise line is busy working on making its guests’ future experiences the best they possibly can be.
“We will keep looking forward as we plan to continue expansion of our destination-focused travel experiences,” he says.
“In addition to our many award-winning river and ocean cruises, in early 2022 we will launch our expedition journeys to the Arctic and Antarctica, as well as North America’s Great Lakes.”
“We will stand by our guests, employees and partners in these challenging times and hope that they, in turn, will stand by us.”
One thing all cruise industry insiders agree on is that theirs is a tight-knit community with the resilience to weather this storm. As Royal Caribbean’s Ben Bouldin says:
“It’s reassuring to know that if we need to adapt, the strength and agility of our team and business will allow us to do so, even if it’s on a moment’s notice. And Covid-19 will pass, so let’s help it do so quickly.”
Visit cruising.org.uk for more information.