Are Cruises Set For a Sea Change?

Is the cruise industry finally out of its depth?
– The Observer, April 19 2020, Rowan Moore

Keeping Afloat Means Quality Makeover

“We’ve been asked – and we’ve asked ourselves – why Covid-19 seems to be impacting Princess so heavily.” Thus spoke Jan Swartz, president of Princess Cruises, in a video posted on social media in mid-March. She looks sad-eyed and baffled into the camera: “We don’t really know.” Perhaps, she muses, the problem is something to do with the “diverse mix of people onboard our ships” and is “being magnified by our core values to respect, protect and connect the world”. She implores her “guests” with a “simple request”: “We ask you to book a future Princess cruise to your dream destination … as a symbol to the world that the things that connect us are stronger than those that divide us.”
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Through the WI Lens

Starting with the nightmare of on-board infection outbreaks experienced by some of the cruise operators during the Covid-19 crisis, this piece goes on to ask whether at least some of that misfortune was exacerbated by the industry’s practices. Like so many views at the moment, there is a tug of war on opinion – black and white, without too many shades of grey. The piece poses an even bigger question: whether the industry will be fundamentally changed in the wake of the virus.

To underline the need for change, The Observer reels off a litany of alleged failings, ranging from the ever-increasing size of cruise liners, which sometimes overshadow the Sydney Opera House or drown out the church bells in Venice with their horns; to pollution spills, environmental impacts and mistreatment of employees. The cruise industry has grown rapidly in recent years and it is certainly true that it (like every other travel sector) will have to change post-coronavirus. For one thing there will be far greater emphasis on sanitisation and medical grade cleanliness. The challenge for cruise operators will be to turn on its head the track record of tummy bugs and coronavirus infection, and to provide an ultra-safe environment for passengers. Hygiene, in effect, will become the real ‘hygiene factor’ for passengers post-virus. In regards to scale, many people have had plenty of time to reflect on the natural environment they enjoy and the slower pace of life under lockdown, are they likely to look for holiday options that are lower impact and more sustainable in the future? Apparently not, if this piece in Conde Nast Traveller is anything to go by. But cities and other communities may also be wary of hosting huge cruise ships – especially given the experience in Australia, where one vessel was responsible for a significant part of the country’s coronavirus infection. In future many destinations may be far more favourable towards smaller-scale cruises which provide a much greater quid pro quo for the resorts and historic places where they disembark.

People will still want to cruise on the world’s seas and oceans after Covid-19 – but is it more likely to be about a quality experience rather than piling berths high and selling them cheap or will ‘Revenge Travel’ really take off and anxiety and fear be damned?

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