Restarting sailing is critical not just for the cruise sector, but for the travel industry as a whole, said the chairman and chief executive of Virtuoso travel network.
In a letter circulated in response to the Healthy Sail Panel recommendations – as the cruise industry waits with bated breath to find out whether the US Centers for Disease Control ban on cruise ships will expire at the end of September or be extended – Matthew Upchurch said: “If you want to restore consumer confidence, get cruise ships sailing again. That needs to be the rallying cry of the travel industry, whether you sell cruises or not – whether you’re a hotelier, tour operator or destination management company.”
“People who cruise don’t just sail. They fly to and from the ship, they stay in hotels before and after, they take tours, dine at restaurants, shop in ports and visit cultural sites. This is a case where a rising tide truly floats all boats. When the cruise lines successfully sail again – and I’m confident they will – it will bolster trust in traveller safety.”
Virtuoso’s boss believes that the cruise industry’s proposed health and safety protocols for tackling Covid-19 should go some way to re-building passenger faith in a sector that, fairly or not, became synonymous with the pandemic – following pictures of passengers confined to their cabins onboard the coronavirus-struck Diamond Princess during the early days of Covid-19.
He explained: “Because the public needs to see travel reopened in a meaningful way, the cruise lines have taken this task on themselves. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings has teamed up with Royal Caribbean Group to develop the Healthy Sail Panel, a group of public health officials and scientists who have created a comprehensive, 74‐point plan across five areas of focus.
To those of the opinion that travel, including cruise, shouldn’t resume fully until a vaccine is found, Upchurch said: “While that’s a goal worthy of aspiring to, it has not been the case with other threats that disrupted travel. Sadly, terrorism wasn’t eliminated before we got back on planes following 9/11. Zika wasn’t cured before we returned to the Caribbean.
“In no way do I want to minimise the severity of Covid‐19 or a global pandemic, but the reality is that like other threats, it becomes part of the traveller’s risk profile. Our job, as travel professionals, is to help travelers make informed decisions based on all factors, including their personal risk tolerance.”
A recent poll of Virtuoso’s travel agency members showed that 40 per cent of new bookings were for ocean cruising – higher than any other travel category – and 37 per cent of Virtuoso clients said they were ready to cruise again.
“The appetite for cruising’s return is there,” added Upchurch.
“Time and again, the travel industry has proven its resiliency and willingness to pull together in times of crisis for the collective good. Now is one of those times. And for all our sake, we should be working to get cruise ships back on the seas.”