It’s been a long, hard slog for the cruise industry these past 12 months. And despite its best efforts to weather the storm, Covid outbreaks onboard cruise ships have only acted to further damage the reputation of the once-esteemed cruise trip. But with the emergence of Covid vaccines, operators might just be able to get themselves back in the game.
A statement from British company Saga, which offers a range of travel services (including cruise trips and insurance) to the over-50 demographic, explained that the company now required everyone travelling onboard its Spirit of Discovery and Spirit of Adventure cruises to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19. In order to accommodate the decision, Saga has delayed the restart of its cruise programme to give passengers time to meet the new requirements. “To inform our decision, we have spent the last few weeks and months speaking to our guests,” Powell was quoted as saying on travel industry news website TTG. “People told us quite clearly that they have come this far and want the reassurance of vaccination before they travel, and to know others travelling with them will be vaccinated too.
“Our customer polling showed that more than 95 per cent of our guests were supportive of a policy change, and we felt it was the right thing to do for our guests.”
Powell added that there was ‘significant pent up demand to start travelling and cruising again’. Since the beginning of January, Saga’s sales for 2022 holidays are up more than 90 per cent, Powell said.
Elsewhere, Cosmos and its sister brands Globus and Avalon Waterways (which together span cruise operations around the world) are to require passengers present either proof of virus immunity (a Covid vaccination carried out at least 14 days before travel or a confirmed Covid diagnosis within three months of travel) or a negative test (taken within 72 hours of travel) before boarding any of their cruise ships. The new practice is to take effect from April 2021.
Commenting on the decision, Scott Nisbet, Chief Executive of the Globus family of brands, said: “The health and safety of our travellers is our number one priority. We have continued to enhance on-trip safety standards throughout the pandemic to ensure we’re ready to welcome guests back to travel when the world is ready. Today, we’re unveiling new pre-trip requirements.”
In addition, the cruise brands will also cover expenses for any additional Covid testing requirements guests need to return home, as well as any tests that passengers need to take during their cruise journey.
Covid vaccinations to protect cruise crew
And, separately, British cruise line Swan Hellenic has announced that it is to require all of its crew to be vaccinated against Covid-19. A move that surely comes as a welcome initiative by crewmembers, many of whom spent multiple weeks out at sea away from their families in mid-2020 when cruise liners were forced to quarantine outside of ports, which, in some cases, resulted in class action lawsuits filed against operators for failing to protect staff against the virus while working.
“We are totally committed to the health and peace of mind of our guests and crews, ensuring they can relax and focus entirely on the life-enriching opportunities we offer to see what others do not,” Swan Hellenic Chief Executive, Andrea Zito, said.
The move towards mandatory Covid vaccinations may look to be a move towards exclusivity for the cruise industry, with only those able to secure a Covid vaccine being allowed onboard voyages at first – but it’s a move that cruise operators are going to have to take if they wish to maintain operations and enhance their health and safety measures to keep up with the evolving health risk landscape while ensuring the peace of mind of both guests and crew.