The tenth edition of the International Cruise Summit, held on December 1st and 2nd in Madrid, focused all its attention on the different strategies of cruise lines to overcome this long period of inactivity caused by the Covid-19 crisis, and how they are preparing for the resumption of their voyages.
The organization of the congress also had to adapt to these extraordinary conditions and opted for a hybrid event – the first one for the cruise industry – and consisted of both on an online platform and in-person participation in the auditorium of the Hotel Meliá Castilla, where around 100 attendees gathered. In total, around 600 congress participants followed the event from all over the world, setting a new record for the organisation. Among the speakers were CEOs, presidents and senior executives of cruise companies, scientists related to the development of the Covid-19 vaccine and other industry players.
ICS 2020 was inaugurated by Eduardo Dehesa Conde, General Director of Tourism of the Community of Madrid, Alfredo Serrano, National Director of CLIA Spain and Belén González del Val, Deputy Director of Marketing of Turespaña.
This sector, which was booming in 2019 and was expecting a 2020 to be another record, is suffering an unprecedented crisis in which both European and US governments have banned operations since last spring. Currently, only the governments of Italy, Germany and Greece have lifted these bans and authorised operations with strict restrictions. In Spain, only one cruise line has so far been authorised to operate in the Canary Islands, but Barcelona, the leading port in the Mediterranean, still has no cruise ships.
The protocols developed by medical and public health experts for the cruise lines following the guidelines published by the European Union, EU Healthy Gateways, include:
– A Covid-19 test for all passengers at the terminal of embarkation.
– A Covid-19 test to all crew members before boarding, as well as a quarantine period once on board before starting work, and finally, monitoring of their health status and a Covid-19 test every week.
– Passenger capacity reduced to 60% in order to allow social distancing.
– Use of masks where it is not possible to maintain distances.
– Ventilation with fresh air filtered by HEPA filters and without recirculation.
– Isolation protocols for suspicious cases and isolation areas with independent ventilation.
– And many other prevention and cleaning measures. Work is currently underway on a revised version of the EU Healthy Gateways guide that will possibly be released at the end of the month.
Professor Gordon Dougan, from the University of Cambridge, one of the world’s leading experts in vaccine development, demonstrated the key points of these scientific processes and how the deadlines for the Covid-19 vaccine have been shortened thanks to messenger RNA technology, but above all because of administrative deadlines.
Cruise lines therefore hope to be able to resume their voyages at least partially in 2021, applying the protocols described and hoping for an improvement in the world situation, thanks to the start of vaccination. Cruise executives agreed that the situation will not return to the level of normality of 2019 until 2022, with all ships operating in the world’s most popular seas. Routes from ports of embarkation accessible by car will be boosted, as initially there will be less available flights and many passengers are more likely to avoid flying. In addition, there will be a greater diversity of ports of call, as it is anticipated that with the implementation of the Covid-19 protocols, many of them will not be able to handle several ships on the same day so there are great opportunities for new destinations. At the same time, the behaviour of some ports at the beginning of the pandemic may take its toll, as Michael Thamm, CEO of Costa Group, said, «We must remember that we are one industry. There were ships that were turned away by ports because they had a sick passenger on board, not even from Covid, but from fear and anxiety. We have lived through moments where there was no humanity, and our industry must have it».
For very different reasons, but related to those predictable changes in itineraries, we could see Cuba returning to the cruise routes if the Biden government allows it, while in Key West a referendum has rejected the calls of large cruise ships.
Cruise line executives also pointed out the need for shore excursion operators to implement aggressive policies to prevent coronavirus infection, since there is little point in having strict protocol on board if the same care is not taken ashore.
On the second day of ICS, the small expedition ship sector played a leading role, as this sector is in full swing with new cruise lines such as Havila Voyages and Swan Hellenic, which are building new cruise ships.
And of course, the voice of the Tour Operators and ports was also heard, as they are the ones who have been most affected by this health crisis along with the cruise lines. Intercruises presented its innovations in digitalization and how this strategy provides greater flexibility in this changing environment and also helps with the implementation of preventive measures. During the session dedicated to how the excursions will be in the «new normality» both cruise lines and tour operators stressed that the priority now is total safety, and that the hiring of guides who are capable of maintaining the protocol will prevail. The adaptations required by the excursions increase operating costs, but Tour Operators have found full cooperation from cruise lines and these costs are being shared between the different parties involved.
The last panel analysed the different strategies that cruise lines will adopt to attract cruise passengers once activity resumes. The support from travel agencies will be key, as well as communication and advertising campaigns, where social networks have increased their weight, but, in addition, the marketing of 2023 cruises has been brought forward. Another of the key points contributed by cruise lines managers is that they will start up cruises as demand increases in order to maintain attractive prices, which will also revert to benefits for travel agents through profitable commissions.
The International Cruise Summit in Madrid continues to position itself as the key congress of the world’s cruise industry.