The cruise companies try to erase from the collective memory the images of wandering ocean liners without a port to dock, and to reactivate the sector they announce “strict” health protocols, with vaccination, tests and preventive distance.
The year 2020 put an end to the irrepressible growth of the sector for a decade, reaching a peak in 2019, with 29.7 million passengers worldwide, of which 15.4 million of them North American and 7.7 million European, from according to a report from the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).
The pandemic meant the sector 40,000 million euros (about 48,300 million dollars) of losses, says Didier Arino, director of the Protourisme consultancy. “It is a sector that will not resume its normal activity until 2025”, in his opinion.
Faced with a still uncertain health situation, the companies that timidly reactivate some ships are adapting their health protocols, advocating vaccines and tests.
The American Norwegian Cruise Line, which this summer enables three of its 17 ships on routes that depart from Greece and the Caribbean – US ports are still closed to them – will only accept “fully vaccinated” people to board.
“It is not one or the other, it is about vaccination and health protocol,” said Harry Sommer, CEO of the company, in a press teleconference, citing as an example the tests both when embarking and disembarking “, sanitation protocols on board, air filtration, etc.
In the United Kingdom, the Ministry of Transport imposes on authorized cruises as of May 17 with a maximum capacity of 50% of passengers and a ceiling of 1,000, and mandatory residents in the United Kingdom. On board, gatherings of more than 6 people will be prohibited and ships must be limited to sailing in British waters.
“We are delighted to offer our customers the best of getaways, here in the UK … We will really examine the weather forecasts for each cruise and aim to get our ships where it is hot and sunny.” says Paul Ludlow, president of C&O Cruises (Carnival group) in a press release.
– “Sanitary bubbles” –
One of the European leaders, Costa Cruises, which has 15 cruise ships, is relaunching this Saturday with the “Costa Smeralda” for crossings through the Mediterranean. Another three will follow with departures from Italy, Marseille and Barcelona and “a reinforced health protocol,” according to a press release from its president, Mario Zanetti.
Its competitor MSC resumed activity in August 2020 and since then carried out “around thirty cruises with more than 60,000 passengers, with complete peace of mind”, using two ships (out of 18), said Patrick Pourbaix, director of MSC France.
Costa and MSC do not ask their passengers to be vaccinated, but they must undergo a screening test before boarding, and they must respect preventive gestures.
Both companies will also only offer “health bubble” excursions, that is, with very limited contact with local populations.
In case of suspicion of covid on board, “we have everything planned: an isolation area on the ship, a medical team, the necessary tests, and disembark any affected passengers at the first port, accompanying them,” explains Pourbaix to AFP.
Although for now few boats and fewer itineraries have been announced for this summer, customers are willing, according to professionals in the sector. Harry Sommer says that the 35 itineraries proposed by Norwegian Cruise Line are already full.
“Cruises have an unbeatable satisfaction rate of around 98%. There is great customer loyalty”, underlines Didier Arino.
According to a survey conducted by CLIA, two out of three cruise ship passengers are willing to return to sea during the same year.
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