Smooth Sailing? Cruising Post COVID

Smooth Sailing? Cruising Post COVID

August 17, 2020 | By Nafeesah Allen

The U.S. has spoken loud and clear about its strict No-Sail order through Sept 2020. Most cruise lines, like Carnival, have taken cues from even more restrictive countries, like Canada and Australia, and they have volunteered to dock most boats until the end of October. Staying anchored makes a lot of sense, given that Caribbean ports of call are re-opening and re-closing at an unpredictable clip. All of the COVID-related changes have made this once care-free vacay option a scary proposition. The industry is already planning for 2021 trips, but cruisers are visibly skeptical. What would it take for customers to risk setting sail? Well, I (very unscientifically) polled my network of world-travelers to find out.

Here are the top 6 things they want to see before they’ll get back on board: 

1. Personal Protective gear and lots of it: While the industry standard for sanitation will require unprecedented upgrades and an exorbitant rise in cleaning staff, prospective passengers need to feel that they can control their exposure. They accept that health declarations, disinfectant foggers, and frequent temperature scans will be par for the course, but they want more than cloth masks to stand between them and a fellow travelers’ cough. People want unlimited face shields and gloves, and they expect everyone – yes, even small kids – to wear them in public spaces.

2. Personalized equipment for, well, everything: The reality is that when ships set sail they will have to do so with very few people on board. In order to maintain social distancing, Genting Cruise Lines, a Hong Kong-based company, says it will operate at 40% less occupancy. Such announcements signal to cruisers that they have every right not to share.  They want to know that no one else will touch “their” treadmill or elliptical machine and leave contagious germs on the heart monitor. And, they most certainly are not sharing cutlery. Travelers want everything disposable and individualized, so cruise ships will have to respond with sign-ups and safeguards.

3. Home offices, just in case: Professionals fear that they may get on a boat and never get off. They’re less afraid of getting sick than they are of getting stuck. Aside from the general disruptions that come with not being able to get back to life on land, people are afraid that delayed arrivals might mean lost wages. They want to know that they’ll have hotspots and guaranteed connectivity for remote work. Short of that, they want protections, so that cruise lines will replace lost pay if they’re cast out to sea and can’t report back to duty.

4. Luxury leisure for bargain prices: Next year, folks will be demanding more for less. That is, more private islands and epicurean room service, and fewer group interactions with local vendors and buffet wait staff. Because of the unpredictability of ports, paying customers expect cruise lines only to book the private beaches that have space for social distancing, and ports guaranteed to provide clearance for cruisers. Some have even asked for a door-to-door booking service with airlines, so that if flights to their onboarding location get canceled, they get full refunds for the lost cruise. While such white-glove service used to be exclusive and extravagant, it would take this ratio of value-to-cost to get seasoned travelers to navigate these troubled waters.

5. Full Disclosure: Customers need to build trust with cruise lines over this year, before they would even think of booking for next. Princess, Norweigan, and Royal Caribbean have already posted their health and travel alerts, but that is not enough. Passengers want to know all the gritty details of how cruise lines handled staff illness, recoveries, and deaths. Sure, some are just voyeurs, but most truly care to know if companies took care of their staff. They don’t want to spend their hard-earned cash on a company that hung their team out to dry.

6. Bigger Smaller is Better: The CDC’s No Sail Order applies to ships with over 250 passenger capacity, so now there is lots of room in the ocean for the smaller fleets. UnCruise, for example, has 9 boats that hold less than 100 people each. For now, these small boat adventures, like Alaskan Dream Cruises, are still legally allowed to operate and are still quite popular. These and private yachts are definitely picking up traction among wanderlusts, especially those with elderly parents and little kids that don’t social distance very well.

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