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Following news of some passengers initially being denied disembarkation from cruise ships at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no doubt lingering concern that clients may be stuck onboard in the future. It just so happens that this very question came up during a recent Northstar Travel Group webinar, and cruise line executives offered their insight.
“That’s a fair concern considering what we all saw play out, but obviously what we saw happen previously is not going to play out in the future,” said Vicki Freed, senior vice president, sales and trade support and service for Royal Caribbean International. “We’re going to make sure that we have great conversations with the different ports of call and that we’re working in partnership with them. Nobody wants to be quarantined on a ship. We get that.”
Nobody wants to be quarantined on a ship. We get that.
To that end, Freed explained that safety and security prior to boarding a cruise will be crucial. Royal Caribbean will take temperature checks and will deny boarding if somebody has a fever.
John Chernesky, senior vice president of North America sales for Princess Cruises and Cunard Line, also emphasized screening.
“Screening for all of us will apply not only to guests, but also to crew members, and it will apply in every port that we go to,” he said. “So, it’s going to be a very intense process; to give your clients confidence, it’s in our vested interest as an industry to make sure we continue to manage this as best we can and to do the right thing. That’s what we will all be doing.”
Chernesky added that his brands are working on policies so that sick people do not feel compelled to board their cruise, even up to the day of their sailing, due to financial pressures.
“Hopefully everybody’s buying travel insurance now, but if they haven’t, we want to come up with a policy that helps them make the smart decision from a health standpoint, not a financial standpoint,” he said.
Beyond embarkation, Freed notes that destinations themselves will not want anyone infected to visit ashore.
“So, we’re working with the ports,” she said. “We’re going to have to be a really good partner.”
Of course, cruise lines and ports of call have generally always had a good relationship in the past, but that did not stop some destinations from understandably shooing ships away under unprecedented coronavirus circumstances. No small island, for instance, desires to be overrun with an infectious disease. Accordingly, policies will have to be much more rigorous moving forward — not only to appease potential passengers, but also to assuage all the locales that cruises start and stop at.
This will surely involve the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. as well as other such global organizations. In fact, Norwegian Cruise Line and Virgin Voyages, along with several expedition brands, are starting to divulge new guidelines regarding healthy resumption of sailing. Norwegian, for one, is emphasizing ship-to-shore safety measures and its collaboration with regional destinations and tour operators to ensure sanitation protocols reach ashore.
“We will only visit safe, open ports of call, which may cause changes to your itinerary,” Norwegian said on its website. “Keeping our guests up-to-date with the latest confirmed changes impacting their itineraries is a top priority.”
During another conference call, Kerrie Symmonds, minister of tourism and international transport in Barbados, expressed optimism about cruise travel’s return to the island nation, though it may not reopen immediately.
“It may be more of a reality to think in terms of winter,” he said.
Even Nassau is indicating a degree of passenger corralling once ships begin to call again. According to an article in The Tribune, Nassau Cruise Port's chief executive Michael Maura anticipates that cruise lines will keep their guests isolated to pre-vetted tours and activities ashore, to further ensure they don’t catch the virus and bring it back to the ship.
To what extent all of this will potentially disrupt the typically relaxing cruise experience is to be seen. Norwegian also indicated online that it will continuously monitor guests and crew throughout voyages to identify potential health issues. Companies will certainly do all they can to make the process as seamless as possible.
“We just have to give the consumer the confidence to know that the cruise lines are serious about the protocols,” Freed said. “We are serious about delivering an outstanding vacation experience because, after all, that’s what we’ve done for so many years. And we want to go back to exactly that, providing beautiful memories for people with their families.”