The US CDC didn’t exactly declare “all hail, let’s sail,” with the long-awaited lifting of its ban on cruising in US waters, but the industry is clearly a step closer to a full resumption of service – though when is still unclear. Recently, a distinguished panel at the Seatrade 2020 Virtual cruise conference was asked what cruising will look like a year from now. Here is their “no holds barred” assessment:
A year from will the cruise industry still be in recovery mode from the pandemic?
Rick Sasso, Chairman, MSC Cruises USA – Certainly, there’s an expectation that that could be a challenge, but the recovery started six months ago. So, yes, there might still be some things we have to challenge ourselves with a year from now. But even over the next weeks and months, the progression is taking a very nice position. We’re already demonstrating the gold standard of how you would launch a health and safety cruise, and that’s going to get even more and more profound as we return to a very healthy cruise environment. We’re very optimistic and see a bright future.
Will your full fleet be running, and will you be back at 100 percent occupancy again?
Sasso – Yes, we will be back to full deployment (though) it will be a gradual, evolving deployment. Our mission is to be fully operational by as soon as next summer. One hundred percent occupancy? Could be, but we will follow all the regulatory advice – whatever number that is.
Will your customer profile be different?
Sasso – No, but there could be some opportunities. Clearly, loyal cruisers are ready to come back, but I think we have an opportunity to capture a new audience of those who didn’t think of cruising as top of mind before when they see start to see that cruising may be the safest place they can have a vacation.
Will we still be wearing masks and distancing?
Sasso – We are all wishfully think that the mask will go away… but if it is something that is needed a year from now, it will be a customary thing.
What will consumers be booking?
Alex Sharpe, President and CEO, Signature Travel Network – I think we could have a really good Alaska season (in 2021) and that will be a wonderful springboard. And then looking forward, I do see (people) desperately wanting to get back to Europe and I think European river cruising will lead the charge because of the perception that it is smaller, but I think that will cascade into ocean cruising as well and we’ll see a wonderful resurgence.
Will travellers’ priorities be different before they book?
Sharpe – I think every transaction now is going to start with health and safety. It’s going to be a core component of every consultation and every sales transaction that our advisors do – understanding the client’s risk and tolerance and that’s going to place them in the right product and destination.
The other thing we’ve see over the years, every time there’s been adversity – 9/11, the depression and so forth – is that becomes even more a need versus a want or a luxury. Now it’s one of the core things that people and families need, and I think that will continue to be a growing segment, where people want desperately to travel.
Has COVID-19 expedited or slowed down the development of technology?
Jay Schneider, SVP Digital, Royal Caribbean Group – I wouldn’t say (the pandemic) has accelerated technology in any way. A lot of the things that will help us return to service around the world are largely in place or being developed. If anything, we’ve been focussed on the standardization of technology so we can go even faster. It’s not often you have the opportunity to upgrade ships because you always have guests and crew on them. So, we have really used this time to get fleet standardization wherever we can.
How will technology help us through this?
Schneider – We were already doing this – touchless boarding, mobile boarding, facial recognition boarding. All of that was designed to get people on board faster.
Do you have faith in the cruise industry to navigate this crisis?
Sharpe – I’ve always been awe of the ability of the cruise lines to not just evolve, but to revolutionize so many things. I think some of the brightest people in the world work in the cruise industry. When this pandemic hit, we started talking about what was going to have to change… and I had great confidence that they were going to figure it out and figure it out quickly and execute flawlessly. No one has the perfect answer today, but they’re learning, they’re digging in and deploying all their resources to make sure that we can do this (cruise) safely, because no one wants to see this industry fail, and it won’t, because of the great people that are in it.
A year from now, will most cruise lines survive?
Sharpe – There’s going to be some attrition in the agency world because of this and I think it’s inevitable that there may be a couple of smaller cruise brands that exit, but I think, by and large, we’re seeing incredible investment into the cruise industry. Look at the new brands that are coming in, like Virgin. And we’ve yet to scratch the surface of eligible cruisers coming on board ships.
Sasso – In the last three years before the pandemic, we’ve become a mainstream product category for travel. More so than we were. We were blossoming around the world, so I think there’s no shrinkage that’s going to take place. I think investment will continue and our mainstream approach is going to accelerate even further once we get behind this pandemic.
RELATED STORY: What lies ahead
Source: Travel Industry Today
CRUISE CRYSTAL BALL:What will the industry look like this time next year