Can the cruise ship industry keep COVID-19 away?
Many of us will still recall pictures of hundreds of thousands of travellers stuck on board cruise ships — holidaymakers who weren’t allowed to disembark and go back home because one or many passengers had been infected by the novel coronavirus.
Knowing that your neighbour in the adjacent cabin has come down with COVID-19 is not a pleasant experience. Though some may just have had a chronic cough — who knows? But how was one supposed to know how best to avoid getting infected when other people on the same deck were never far away?
One thing’s for sure: tour operators are bracing for a restart under different conditions. It’s no longer sufficient to just accommodate and feed passengers. New strategies must be developed to keep COVID-19 at bay.
There’s obviously no doubt that cruise ships will continue to have a right to exist. According to a local tour operator, the general easing of coronavirus-related restrictions will enable many cruise ships to end their forced hibernation. He believes the ships can be operated safely again.
Thinking about how economies will steer clear out of the current crisis, experts have at least two potential scenarios in mind. If the crisis is severe but doesn’t last too long, a swift recovery is possible. If nations get stuck in several disruptions for a long time, there will be a slow progression of a crisis.
The same tour operator is optimistic that recovery is following the former path, citing its customers’ current booking behaviour. Another travel agent offered a somewhat more differentiated view and stated that towards the end of the year, a fast recovery is expected to kick in, but it will take some more time to completely reach pre-COVID-19 levels again.
Tour operators and ship owners have to act immediately. Hygiene standards must be enhanced onboard to minimize the risk of infections. That’s no plain sailing, given that a cruise trip is a social event for many. There will be problems that won’t be easy to handle. Take the dining procedure which is also perceived as a social event. Eating your meal with others likely increases the risk of getting infected. No wonder that virologists keep saying that a small number of travellers is more than enough to start a new wave of infections.