Increasingly over the last few weeks, many countries have begun to ease COVID-19-related restrictions in the hope of kickstarting their economies and industries. This could spell good news for the battered cruise sector, particularly as countries such as Iceland begin to reopen their borders to cruise tourists. 

With forms and apps to download, tourists can now either test themselves for the virus or self-isolate for two weeks on arrival. The news has been welcomed by the Chair of Cruise Iceland, as the prospect of vessels taking to the seas again start to brighten.

But what about the industry as a whole? With hopes to restart by November, processes, facilities, and the entire cruise experience will have to change and rapidly. But the question remains - just how can this be achieved?

Enabling the re-start

With over 300 ocean and river cruise vessels currently anchored and moored alongside quays all around the world and capacity exceeding over one million passengers, the cruise industry is in deep crisis. For the major players – Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Lines, Genting and Disney – this has translated into serious share price falls as uncertainty continues and proposed dates to restart the sector have come and gone.

At Royal HaskoningDHV, we have recently completed research and analysis aimed at facilitating a “re-start” in the sector (you can contact me directly to find out more about the research). By applying insights gathered over several years, we have taken a particularly close and realistic look at requirements in terms of passenger numbers and processing to make a re-start financially viable.

Establishing a new curb-side to ship-side standard

We know that cruise terminal buildings have limited space to be able to accommodate yet another process, either within or outside existing facilities. In fact, while current infrastructure for cruise passenger processing and boarding was built to meet the goal of curb-side to ship-side in 40 minutes, our analysis suggests that this gold standard may well be gone – at least for now.

What the sector needs to do now, is create a new gold standard, that is aligned to the reality and the obstacles with which we must contend. This could mean that separate, possibly temporary, buildings will be required within port land, and at the very least within the city or town limits from which the vessel will depart. The impact this will have on these cities in terms of infrastructure needs could in itself be substantial. More importantly, a thorough and highly-organised process will need to be put in place – ensuring that passengers remain separated while they are being processed (possibly within their vehicles). Roughly translated, that will in turn mean significantly longer boarding times.

Is the cruise future regional…for now?

The knock-on effects of this within the terminal could be as impactful as they are outside it. The fact is, cruise terminal facilities are not designed for long waits in the way airports are for example. There is little in the way of retail or restaurants or other facilities beyond the necessary amenities. So, rethinking the old gold standard must also start here and carry through to the overall cruise experience.

And just what will that “experience” look like? Well, it is quite possible that the safest and most sustainable, if not manageable, option will be in the emergence of regional cruises between neighbouring nations or regions. We are already beginning to see hints of this in the form of so-called Travel Bubbles. Australia and New Zealand for example have proposed the establishment of the Trans-Tasman Bubble,  an agreement between the two countries which would allow for increased trade and quarantine-free travel between the two (and potentially more) countries. But at this stage, world cruises with multiple day calls are perhaps too risky a step right now.

Getting the balance right

The major struggle for the cruise sector ultimately lies in how best to achieve safe sailing and delimiting the potential for passengers or crew members to bring COVID-19 on board. It is struggle that looms large over any progress made so far.

The cruise industry has focused greatly on how to get passengers on board – a focus which is evident in the ongoing marketing and discounting of cruises as well as steady bookings in sales that are now extending into 2021. But the proof of the cruise pudding, will ultimately lie in how the sector achieves safe sailing and delimits the potential for passengers or crew members to bring COVID-19 on board during the cruise itself.  This concern will inevitably loom large over any progress made.

Charting a course to sector-re-start will be one of the greatest challenges to cruise companies. Rethinking that course from pre-curb side to post-ship side is just the beginning.

Contact us today to find out more about our research and concept for passenger pre-terminal screening and testing.

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