Will cruising still be safe post COVID-19?

Will cruising still be safe post COVID-19?

The rise of the COVID-19 pandemic has basically left no industry unaffected and in most cases negatively. It is no surprise that the travel industry has been one of the hardest hit. Airlines have basically ground to a halt and countries have closed their borders. One section of the industry that has probably been targeted the most, especially by the media is the cruise industry. Instilling fear and doubt about ever stepping foot aboard a cruise ship with headlines such as “floating petri dish” and “ships of death”, it might seem on the surface that the end of cruising has come.

In quite a few instances, most of the media’s sensationalistic claims have been greatly exaggerated, unwarranted, unsubstantiated and flat out not true. In a recent article in The Maritime Executive (26 April 2020), former cruise ship Captain Christopher Rynd states:

“Much in the media recently has demonized an industry that has long been considered by people in the maritime domain as representing best practice: well-run cruise ships operating to high standards in matters of health, environment, safety and security, while also delivering great holidays to their guests. Such negative views penalize ships and companies of good reputation, along with the many land-based businesses…”

Using the example and date of the norovirus, which unfortunately can be present in cruise ships due to poor personal hygiene of the guests, Captain Rynd informs that of the 140,000 passengers arriving on 45 voyages in Sydney in February this year, there was only and incident of 1.9 cases per 1000 people of the gastrointestinal illness. He further states that “shows that the cruise industry has been demonstrably effective in prevention and control and has successfully worked to control other health threats over the years, from Legionnaires, to SARS, H1N1 and MERS. All contrary to what has been seen recently in popular media. In fact, life afloat has been healthier than ashore.”

What cruising may look like in a post COVID-19 world?

The way we cruise will change in a post COVID-19 world. Some of the initiatives that are being evaluated.

Boarding / Disembarkation processes will be even more streamlined.

Cruise lines are already making great use of technology to speed up the boarding/disembarkation processes. Technology will play an even greater role to maximise the “no touch” concept of completing the pre-departure boarding processes through the use of apps and online tools. Health declarations will be more thorough and will be completed online prior to boarding. At the pier temperature checks will be conducted. Queue flows will be evaluated and staggered to ensure social distancing is maintained.

Ships not sailing a full capacity

In order to maintain social distancing, the ships may not be sold at full capacity to ensure crowding does not occur. Whilst this might be good news for guests as it will be more space, the drawback might be higher cruise fares. Future ship designs might change in order to incorporate social distancing concepts from the outset.

Self service buffets delivery style will change

One area where any type of virus can quickly and easily be passed on or spread are the buffets. Whilst the ships chefs and waiters will take the highest care in the food preparation if the guest is not maintaining a good level of personal hygiene such as washing hands then a virus can easily spread. Given the cases of Norovirus in the past, many cruise lines have set up mandatory wash stations prior to entry in the buffet restaurants. In the future to further mitigate the spread of a virus, the buffets may have protective glass in front of the food, and it will be served to the guest. There will no handling of cutlery or food directly by the guest.

More frequent intense cleaning of public areas and cabins

Even more stringent and more frequent protocols will be adopted for the cleaning and sanitation of all areas of the ship. The cabins “soft furnishings” and bedding/linen will be more frequently changed and replaced.

COVID-19 should be seen as opportunity of ways we can do things better. All sectors of the tourism industry, from airlines, cruise companies, hotels and tour operators will learn from COVID-19 to provide a safer and more sustainable industry for everyone to enjoy for years to come. At the core of it, cruising in itself is far from dangerous – it is the guests not following accepted social norms that can potentially make it an unsafe experience.

Most cruise line companies are reporting strong sales for forward dates. Cruising might be taking a pause at the moment, but it will be back bigger and stronger than ever. Happy sailing!

About the author of this article: Emilio Zola Labbozzetta, General Manager of ABC Travel, has been on over 100 cruises in his 32 year career across all the major cruise lines. He is a member of the Cruise Line Industry Association. Any questions or advice feel free to email him at emilio@abctravel.com.au.