The Return of Cruising – One Size Does Not Fit All

The recent Cruise Conversations episode, The Future of Cruise Hospitality, saw cruise industry experts Stephen Fryers, Cruise Line Consultant, Erik Schobesberger, Vice President of Modernization & Newbuilding, ALMACO Group, and Michael Rollins, Consultant Healthcare Environment Hygiene & Infection Prevention, Osprey DeepClean, discuss how hospitality on board would change in the near future. Watched live by hundreds of the industry’s top professionals and thought leaders, the panel, moderated by Cruise Ship Hospitality Expo CEO Toby Walters, dived headfirst into the murky waters of post-COVID-19 cruising. On the agenda: the possible solutions cruise lines could implement; the logistical challenges of post-COVID cruise ships; the future of room service; technological advances; and how to deliver the same level of guest experience while remaining safe. Catch up on the conversation on our YouTube Channel.

Something that quickly became clear was the fact that there is no singular solution to COVID-19 in cruise. Michael Rollins: “There is no silver bullet. It is a combination of a number of interventions that collectively add up to a solution.” This was echoed by Stephen Fryers, who expressed the difficulties of finding a universal solution:

“We will see a combination [of solutions] – HEPA filters, UV-C lighting, cleaning, misting systems. I don’t see it being one system added that will be the solution for COVID-19 or any other virus out there.”

Stephen followed this point by explaining that the variation between cruise ships, even within one line’s fleet, made finding a universal solution far more difficult. Where some vessels are up to 20 or 30 years old, modern systems would prove harder to retrofit. These ships would require a combination of solutions that covered all necessary bases, without racking up costs for the cruise line. Newer ships, such as Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady, would find it far easier to meet guidelines, with many procedures and technologies already in place. On board Scarlet Lady the cruiser will find Steripower hand sanitisers installed, an air purification system in place, and an unrivalled contactless experience provided by The Band – and all this before the pandemic.

Erik Schobesberger reiterated this sentiment later in the discussion, saying “some ships will be much easier to convert in the post-COVID-19 world than others.” Exploring the variances between different classes of cruise ship, Erik noted that social distancing, for example, would be far easier to enforce on an expedition ship, where the entertainment is often the scenery, than on an ocean ship (a ‘floating city’), where onboard entertainment, shared by thousands of people, is the focal point.

In an effort to propose a qualifiable first step, Michael Rollins espoused the effectiveness of knowledge:

“Something much more deliverable is education for the passengers, in terms of their social responsibilities and their own healthcare.”

A socially conscious ship is far more likely to be a healthy ship. Those passengers adhering to the guidelines given to them by the ship will find they can enjoy a cruise in much the same way as pre-COVID-19. Making sure the cruise feels like a holiday is a key part of any recovery efforts, says Michael Rollins. “We have to be careful that we don’t maintain this level of psychological fear of people coming on board. You’ve got to restore as much ‘back to normal’ as possible.” This was concurred across the board, with Stephen saying “This is a vacation. You don’t want people to feel like they’re walking around a hospital.”

Technology is often championed as a cure for modern dilemmas – and it certainly has an application in cruise. Cruise lines have been attempting to reduce contact as a way to improve the guest experience for a number of years. In the recovery stage of a pandemic, these technologies, such as Princess Cruises’ Medallion, can make up part of the overall solution by curtailing possible points for cross-contamination. Erik Schobesberger explained that we while will likely see a rise in these technologies, they are not new:

“This [COVID-19] is more of a technology accelerator than anything. […] We were already on the way to contactless technologies on board, and this will push that along.”

And maybe that is one of the main takeaways from The Future of Cruise Hospitality. The global pandemic has shaken the world, but the solutions to the problems are there. But cruise lines need to be wary that one size does not fit all – solutions that will be effective on river cruise ships may not have the same affect as on a behemoth ocean vessel. This much is obvious, and the cruise lines are already aware of this – this much is clear by the variety of solutions already proposed. What the cruise industry needs, agrees the panel, is a solid set of guidelines from the World Health Organisation (WHO) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to indicate how cruising must adapt to prevent the possibility of similar future pandemics.

Did you miss out on The Future of Cruise Hospitality? Catch up on all the Cruise Conversations episodes on our YouTube channel.

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