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Cruise is battling to get back to sea but that might not be its greatest challenge

Ocean Cruise lines are facing an enormous and unprecedented issue dealing with Covid-19 – to public health agencies they are the last on the list in easing lockdown and we have yet to see any meaningful return to the oceans.

When you look at modern ships you have a variety of everyday challenges; theatres, restaurants, swimming pools, spas, elderly demographics, thousands of passengers in confined spaces, 1000-2000 seater dining rooms and variable factors such as different destinations each day. Most of these challenges remain yet unsolved even on land. Broadway isn’t expected to return in 2020, indoor swimming pools are struggling to reopen, and spas are opening with limited services etc.

However there is something that the public doesn’t understand – well-managed cruise ships are some of the safest environments on Earth for hygiene and disease control practices. The measures we see now being introduced into the “new normal” have been standard in cruise ships for decades, the army of cleaners and hygiene operational levels are second to none across any hospitality industry. You can’t even get into the buffets without washing your hands at the wash stations directly before the entrance, teams of cleaners are constantly cleaning 24 hours a day and staff are generally so well trained with robust processes to contain any incidents with immediacy.

With the CDC and Public Health England all extending no sail orders, cruise ships will unfortunately remain out of the oceans for some time to come. The co-operative work that cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and NCL have done really shows the seriousness but also the togetherness in this key pillar of the tourism industry – it is only a matter of time before they pull through and either with testing, masks, reduced capacity etc. they will return to the oceans soon.

With so many cruise lines operating their own private destinations, we should expect to see “biosecure” cruising starting out of Florida to their Bahamas based resorts like Royal Caribbean’s CocoCay, certain cruise lines could create new itineraries that visit no public ports and control the whole infection process. Short duration cruises will return first with anywhere between 3-6 nights in the short term.

So while the cruise lines and public health agencies have challenges to solve, there is a bigger issue brewing. There seems to be a crude agenda with a lot of press targeted at the cruise industry. In most parts this is completely uneducated criticism of the cruise industry. There is no doubt that in the onset of Covid-19 there were some terrible incidents, but so too did these occur in planes, trains and offices, though they never received even a small share of the press attention. Looking forward this leaves the cruise industry with their biggest challenge, presenting the right messaging to the public that cruising is not only a safe form of tourism, but that their precautions are of the highest standard across any hospitality industry.

Companies are rightly fighting for their survival, all want to get back to sea as quickly as possible to protect their balance sheets, but while we are still in the height of the crisis too quick a return could instead damage the medium term recovery. With the European season over halfway through, is it worth restarting and risking any ship getting cases of Covid-19, causing a storm of negative press when instead the summer 2021 season could be the focus for sales in the coming months? Ramping up and getting the right messaging should be the priorities now for the European season. The chances are by the next season, a vaccine or some form of treatment would be available.

My advice to brands would be don’t rush back now, create demand with great messaging about safety and precautions, get 2021 right by generating excitement and work together with CLIA to get the perception of the new cruising right.

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