By Tony Roberts, vice president, Princess Cruises UK & Europe and Clia UK & Ireland chair
The health and safety of guests, crew and the communities we visit has always been the number one priority for cruise lines. In fact, no other travel sector has anything near the level of screening protocols and stringent health measures that have been standard in the cruise industry for many years.
Nevertheless, the current global health crisis that our world is facing has meant that cruise lines have had to take the already rigorous protocols we have in place and further enhance them, without compromising on guest experience.
Because of this, in 2021, alongside the implementation of new health and safety measures, we will start to see what the ‘future of cruise’ looks like, as lines take advantage of new technologies to change certain traditional aspects of a cruise holiday – once seen as the ‘norm’ – for the better.
For example, Princess is transforming embarkation day by staggering boarding and completely reinventing the traditional muster drill. By leveraging the Princess OceanMedallion technology, guests can select their preferred time to arrive at the port and, once onboard, can watch the important safety training video on their mobile device or stateroom TV, simply verifying their designated muster station with a quick and contactless check-in at their convenience anytime between boarding and sail away.
What awaits guests
Travel agents and guests will already be well aware that, when ships resume sailing, additional protocols will be in place across the entire sector. For Princess, the OceanMedallion wearable technology, which was designed to create seamless experiences for our guests, now lends itself well to travelling in a socially distanced world. We recently announced that, upon return to service in 2021, the Princess Cruises global fleet will feature the ‘MedallionClass Experience’, which means that our guests will be able to enjoy what we are calling a ‘Truly Touchless’ cruise holiday. From the aforementioned staggered boarding and transformed safety training, to contactless payments, keyless stateroom entry and the ability to order food and drink to anywhere on the ship, this innovative technology means that our guests can continue to enjoy next-level service while staying safe at sea.
A reflection on the current moment
Over the past year, cruise lines have worked tirelessly with global health leaders and medical experts to devise and implement best practices for when sailings resume.
However, to be able to fully prepare for a return to service, the UK Foreign Office needs to remove its outdated travel advice on ocean cruising. To this end, Clia is continuing to play a key role in working with the UK government to secure this change and help inform cruise restart.
While news of the UK becoming the first country to kick off a mass vaccination programme is encouraging, the key to the safe resumption of operations is this continued collaboration between cruise lines, medical experts, national authorities and local ports.
We are now looking forward to the government removing its travel guidance and setting a timeline to safely start cruises, so agents and guest alike can feel confident that there is a path back to cruising in 2021.
Many will be relieved that 2020 is behind us. It is now time for us to focus on the future and to the day when cruise lines can get back to what they do best – providing guests with an extraordinary service and unrivalled experience.
By Iain Powell, head of trade sales and third party cruise, Saga
When we sat down in our planning sessions in late 2019, none of us could have imagined the challenges which lay ahead for the world in the coming year. So, as I now sit here, thinking about 2021, I’m reluctant to jump in with the now common phrases of ‘green shoots’ or ‘new norm’; because if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we never know what lays ahead. That said, despite the challenges we must first overcome, there are many reasons to feel positive, optimistic and even excited.
While the pandemic has deeply affected us all, I think it’s fair to say the older generation found their day-to-day lives most significantly impacted. Being among the most at risk, this generation who encapsulate a ‘keep calm and carry on’ spirit was suddenly told they couldn’t just ‘carry on’.
Millions of older people in the UK were forced to shield and isolate, sometimes even when the rest of us could experience some level of normality and human interaction. Many have battled with loneliness and isolation unlike anything they have experienced before. A recent study by Age UK highlighted the issue, citing that 47 per cent of respondents (all over 65) reported struggling with loneliness in 2020; and just under two thirds of people reported feeling a sense of time lost or wasted during the pandemic.
Making up for lost time
At Saga, we’ve spent even more time than usual speaking to our customers. The overwhelming sentiment we take from these conversations is very similar to that of the Age UK research – our customers feel as though they have lost precious time, time set aside for travelling. Lengthy periods spent indoors have built resentment and frustration around cancelled plans and missed opportunities. This time spent reflecting has also provided space for thought, planning and daydreaming about future travel plans. Those trips they never got to take, as well as those destinations they have always wanted to visit.
Trust and confidence are key
The cruise industry was hit particularly hard in the early stages of the virus, starting with the extensive and often unbalanced coverage of outbreaks on cruise ships. The media storm which followed those early cases whipped up a flurry of panic and fear around cruises. Interestingly, older stalwart cruisers seemed less impacted by this coverage, with many knowing that cruise ship travel is in fact one of the most controlled, safe and regulated forms of travel. Therefore, while we all have a job to do in restoring consumer confidence around cruising, that task may be slightly easier in the ‘repeaters’ from the older generation, as opposed to a younger ‘new to cruise’ group, who will likely require more convincing.
We also now know that the older generation of travellers will be among the first to be vaccinated, meaning the opportunity to travel will likely present itself to them before anyone else. Being vaccinated will replace a fear of travel with the confidence to explore. We need the government and FCDO to support this returning confidence with sound, scientifically backed and justifiable guidance. Trust and confidence are key for older travellers.
While we can be very positive and hopeful about the year ahead, we must also remain realistic about the hurdles ahead of us.
The first half of 2021 will still be impacted by suspensions and cancellations and it’s likely that older travellers won’t want to do so until they have been vaccinated, which could take a few months. It’ll then still take time for confidence to build; and I’ll say it again, we need the government’s support with achieving this.
That said, let’s not end on a negative note. New starts are good things. We all have the opportunity to reset, rethink and work in different ways. The ‘grey pound’ will be more valuable than ever and, when they can get back travelling, I’m very confident they will do so in their droves.