The coronavirus pandemic may have dealt a severe blow to the cruising industry, with earlier accounts of passengers quarantined during the onset of the pandemic having a negative publicity for the sector. But cruise operators believe they are ready to emerge from the crisis by learning from its mistakes and rebuilding passenger trust so that they will be ready to set sail again when the time is right.
A shining example within the cruising industry in Asia is Genting Cruise Lines (GCL), which has been at the forefront of introducing enhanced safety measures from the onset of the pandemic, thanks to its experience working closely with the Singapore authorities.
Recent publicity focusing on cruises may deter new cruisers from embarking on their cruise voyage. The landscape has evolved and fresh initiatives are crucial to boost consumers’ confidence once again.
Since April, GCL has been charged with housing foreign workers who have recovered from Covid-19 onboard SuperStar Gemini and SuperStar Aquarius. In order to meet the government’s strict requirements for the operation, the cruise line had to put in place extensive safety features that include fresh air filtration, providing crew with personal protective equipment, daily temperature checks and frequent disinfection of high touch-points, to name a few.
“We understand that recent publicity focusing on cruises may deter new cruisers from embarking on their cruise voyage. The landscape has evolved and fresh initiatives are crucial to boost consumers’ confidence once again. Educating the public is key and providing a better understanding of the high levels of preventive measures and sanitisation standards on board cruise ships will contribute to regaining customers’ confidence,” said Michael Goh, president of Dream Cruises and head of international sales, GCL.
Armed with the necessary insights gleaned through first-hand experience by supporting the Singapore government’s efforts to contain the spread of the virus, GCL went on to introduce further measures such as capping its cruise capacity at 70% and implementing safe social distancing measures.
These efforts have allowed Explorer Dream under Dream Cruises to become the first cruise ship in the industry to receive the Certification in Infection Prevention for the Maritime industry (CIP-M) from the world’s leading classification society, DNV GL.
Dream Cruises has also become the first cruise line in the world to begin sailing after the global cruise industry was shut down due to the pandemic when the Explorer Dream recommenced operations in Taiwan from 26 July, 2020 onwards.
For Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL), which has been taking a cautious and slower approach to resume sailings, the team is keeping busy during the downtime.
Said Angie Stephen, managing director, Asia Pacific, Royal Caribbean Cruises: “The world is clearly embarking on a programme of gradually opening up. That programme is just beginning and it will vary between geographical areas. Our operations will start small and they will start carefully, but we will start as soon as we and the relevant authorities are satisfied that all the appropriate health processes and procedures are in place. Until then, we are using this time to raise our standards to entirely new levels with our Healthy Return to Service programme that ensures the wellbeing of our guests, crew and the communities they visit.”
To adapt to “a changed world” of sailing, Stephen shared that they are looking into enhanced embarkation screening, temperature screenings, testing options for the crew and guests, better sanitisation and disinfection, upgraded air filtration, reduced occupancy as well as changes to dining.
In an unprecedented move, RCL also teamed up with Norwegian Cruise Line to create a mega panel of experts in public health, infectious disease, biosecurity, hospitality and maritime operations.
Working based on input from global health authorities and medical experts, the Healthy Sail Panel expects to craft its initial recommendations on getting ships back to sea safely by end-August, before extending this to the rest of the industry and regulators, according to Stephen.
Among the experts are former Utah governor and secretary of health and human services Mike Leavitt, who served under former president George W Bush, and Dr Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration.
Similarly, Costa Cruises believes in the need for strong collaboration in order to provide a safe and healthy environment for its crew and guests.
“Throughout our pause in operation, we have been consulting and assembling with the best minds in medical science, public health and infection disease control. We have been cooperating with relevant public health authorities to strengthen our safety measures, while also building on the principles of government authorities, World Health Organization, flag regulations, the European Union, national policies of destinations and Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA),” said Bernie Ye, senior vice president sales & commercial, Greater China and Southeast Asia, Costa Cruises.
In addition to onboard preventive measures, Costa is also aiming to tighten its booking and pre-cruise processes and onshore tour management.
While there are no confirmed plans yet to resume sailings, Ye shared that Costa Cruises has “full confidence in Asia’s cruise market”, and is actively working on its 2021 deployment plan with business partners.
“Our solid booking patterns for 2021 across different countries shows that guests value our products and they are willing to return to cruising, once conditions safely allow unforgettable holidays,” said Ye.
To offer guests flexibility and encourage them to sail again, GCL has also launched a Cruise As You Wish programme that will allow flexibility of up to 48 hours cancellation before sailing for guests to receive 100% future cruise credit. This “will allow existing and potential customers to have ease of mind when booking a cruise with us,” remarked Goh.
Last but not least, RCL’s Stephen believes it is important to provide constant communication with travel agents who are essential partners to their business.
“As our new protocols become available, we will ensure our travel partners have these and can use this time to prepare and educate themselves on them. Travellers are looking to our travel advisors to guide their decisions, and this will become even more important once the world opens up for travel again,” she remarked.