Cruise industry heavyweights are adamant that when cruising resumes in Asia and elsewhere across the globe, passengers will be safer onboard ships than anywhere else in the world.
“We want to make sure that guests are safer on our ships than they would be in their own communities,” said Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises, addressing the travel agent audience in a pre-recorded interview during the last of a three-part CruiseWorld Asia webinars organised by Northstar Travel Media.
He said cruise lines are going to “extraordinary lengths” to ensure the safety of passengers on board. “No one else in the travel industry demands 100% [Covid-19] testing of everyone involved in the operation. Guests will be boarding a ship in a safe bubble,” he added.
Fain made a case of how Singapore has been a “shining example” for its constructive approach to driving the resumption of sailing.
“We’re very optimistic that the cruises will sell out. People have been isolated, confined to their homes. This is a chance [for them] to get out.”
According to Jiali Wong, regional manager at Cruise Lines International Association, the response to the cruise restart announcement by Dream Cruises and Royal Caribbean had been exceptional.
“Travel agents have been swamped with demand. Phones have been ringing off the hook," shared Wong.
“We’ve done six times more business in one week [since the announcement] than we would do in a normal week in October pre-Covid,” said Angie Stephen, Royal Caribbean International's managing director, Asia Pacific of the cruise line's ‘sailcations’.
In a pre-recorded interview, Royal Caribbean's Richard Fain (right) told Travel Weekly's Arnie Weissmann that cruise lines have gone to "extraordinary lengths" to ensure safe sailings.
Pilot sailings will pave the course for broader resumption
Presenters at the CruiseWorld Asia webinar stressed the importance of the upcoming World Dream and Quantum of the Seas' round-trip cruises for the future of cruising in Asia and beyond.
Wong added that every process surrounding the November and December cruises from Singapore would be audited to ensure the ongoing safety of sailings.
Annie Chang, director of cruise development with Singapore Tourism board, believed that the pilot sailings from Singapore will “give us hope”.
“If we can prove ourselves with these cruises, we can make a case later… for fly-cruise to restart. But we have to prove ourselves first, to do it right from the start.”
These first sailings are “baby steps to prove the concept”, noted Paul Chong, Carnival Asia's vice president business development and Costa Cruises' vice president sales and commercial Southeast Asia.
“We believe selling cruise is safer than selling FIT travel. So, my message to travel agents is, don’t be discouraged. The demand for cruise is there and the product is compelling.”
Royal Caribbean's Angie Stephen encourages travel agents to stay upbeat and keep themselves updated on new sailing protocols.
Getting the right message out key for agents
Understanding this is a pivotal moment in getting the right messages out, the two major cruise operators will be bringing travel agents on board to “stress test” the new protocols.
Michael Goh, president of Dream Cruises, said, “On 3 November we’re going to do a simulation for our trade partners to cruise with us, so they can experience [the journey] from the terminal to the ship to disembarkation. We’ll show them exactly what the cruise life will be like at this point."
Royal Caribbean will also be doing a two-night trial cruise for trade members around the same week, "because seeing is believing”, according to Stephen.
She added that while the cruise industry had been temporarily paused for months, travel agents should spend their time at "the red light" to familiarise themselves with all aspects of the new sailing protocols.
“Tough times don’t last but tough people do, so stay strong because travel agents across the globe are key to our success," she said, in an uplifting message to the travel trade.
During the webinar, Stephen also urged travel advisors to address the "misinterpretation of the cruise restart" as "cruises to nowhere".
"We're going somewhere – the wide open ocean is somewhere!" she remarked.