Charting a course for recovery

The cruise tourism industry has taken a beating from the combined impacts of Covid-19’s tourism freeze and negative media reports on infections onboard – tough times that Cruise Lines International Association is helping its community to navigate through with enhanced education, government advocacy and careful planning with medical experts. Managing director Australasia & Asia, Joel Katz details how

I love CLIA’s new information initiative, Ask Joel Q&A Series, which debuted very recently on June 22 for the Australia and New Zealand cruise tourism industry members and community, seeking to address burning questions they have about the business. Were you surprised by any of those questions you got through the member survey?
Many of the questions from our member survey are similar to questions we’re getting direct from members and through other avenues such as the recent webinars we hosted.

Agents have a clear focus on when cruise operations might resume and what specific health protocols will be in place to uphold the safety of guests and crew when they do. While we’re not yet in a position to answer this specifically, we’ve been able to explain the process that’s underway worldwide and the areas cruise lines are examining in consultation with medical experts as they develop the new protocols.

We’ve also received many questions about what CLIA is doing with governments to advocate on behalf of agents and cruising, and this is an area we’re focused very closely on in many regions of the world.

Do you reckon these questions would be similar to what’s worrying cruise tourism industry members and community in Asia?
There are many issues around cruising that are universal and we know the impact they’re having on travel agents all over the world. Many of the questions we’re answering on behalf of agents elsewhere will also be of interest to travel agents in Asia. At the same time, Asian markets are very diverse and cruise operations in this part of the world are varied, so as we develop new frameworks for cruising worldwide, there will also be regional factors the industry needs to consider and discuss with governments in each country.

CLIA set up the Cruise Champion course, which is now open also to non-members, to equip industry players with knowledge to debunk myths around the product. From a PR, sales and marketing perspective, that is a great move since a consistent line of response is crucial for the collective cruise industry. But that’s just one channel. How is CLIA pushing the same messaging and corrections on common misconceptions to the public?
CLIA has been addressing misperceptions around cruising through many channels, and is working to raise awareness of the many initiatives cruise lines mount in areas like safety, the environment and community development. This takes place through our ongoing PR activity and our daily efforts to correct the record in mainstream media, as well as via the videos and visual assets we share via social media.

Many of the resources we provide for travel agents and the education opportunities we offer are also aimed at raising awareness and equipping travel agents and industry partners with the knowledge to help them act as ambassadors for the cruise industry.

Health, hygiene and safety are such critical considerations among travellers now, and the accommodation, attraction and F&B players in the wider hospitality industry have rolled out protocols that detail new measures to protect customers and staff. Why is it taking the cruise industry longer to establish these protocols? Where do the complexities lie?
While cruise operations are suspended, cruise lines are using this time to develop enhanced measures to uphold the safety of guests, crew and the communities we visit. Working with medical experts and health authorities internationally, the cruise lines are considering extensive measures that will ideally involve a door-to-door approach that begins at the time of booking and continues through the cruise journey until the passenger returns home.

Globally, scientific understanding of Covid-19 is changing on a frequent basis, and for this reason, the cruise industry will continue to work with experts as understanding evolves and prevailing guidance from health authorities aligns.

Is there a possible timeline as to when the cruise industry can collectively publish its health, hygiene and safety protocol?
There is no quick fix in this international pandemic and it’s not possible to speculate on timing at the moment, and so our industry will continue to be guided by medical experts and health authorities as it works towards resumption.

Is there any chance of cruise tourism being part of the travel bubbles that country governments and tourism authorities are attempting to establish? Is this a conversation that CLIA is getting into with government agencies and tourism authorities?
When the time is right, we envisage cruise operations are likely to resume in controlled phases and on a regional basis, particularly while international travel is restricted.

In different regions, this may involve domestic cruises, short itineraries, or operations within a regional bubble. Ultimately, the cruise industry will be guided by governments and health authorities on the appropriate pathway to a restart.

The cruise industry’s aim is to develop the best possible response to Covid-19 so that we can begin discussions with government on the appropriate way to revive cruise tourism when the time is right.

How do you think the cruise experience could change in the initial stages of business recovery?
While it’s not possible to say at this stage what new measures will be implemented, cruise lines have embarked on a comprehensive process which includes consideration of enhanced boarding procedures; additional onboard public health and sanitation protocols; monitoring capabilities; quarantine arrangements; and shore-side care for guests and crew.

Covid-19 is an unprecedented event. With hindsight comes powerful knowledge, which will undoubtedly inform and shape the future of cruising. Cruises will sail again – stronger and better than ever – when the time is right. We believe our industry has the expertise and resilience to confront the current challenges and return to prosperity in the future.

Indeed, hindsight is 20/20. What do you think the cruise tourism industry could have done better to soften the business impact of this pandemic?
From the beginning of this global public health crisis, CLIA cruise line members worked under the guidance of international and national health authorities to adopt policies and protocols, such as travel, contact, and symptom screening that went above and beyond the actions of other industries.

These measures were strengthened repeatedly as new information and guidance became available from prevailing health authorities, culminating with the voluntary suspension of passenger operations in mid-March, making the cruise industry one of the first to take such action.

This suspension occurred within 48 hours of the World Health Organization’s pandemic declaration.

Covid-19 can spread in any setting where people come together to socialise and enjoy shared experiences, which includes cruise ships, as well as restaurants, hotels, movie theatres, and the like. While it is easy to focus on cruising because of its high profile and transparent reporting standards, the fact is cruising is neither the source nor the cause of Covid-19. What is different about cruise ships compared to other settings is that no other sector or industry has such stringent reporting requirements coupled with the presence on board of credentialed doctors and nurses to provide medical surveillance.

What lessons are CLIA and its members taking away from this?
Like all areas of the travel industry, there is much to be learnt from the experience of Covid-19 and the cruise industry is committed to working with medical experts internationally to prepare the best possible response and uphold the health and safety of guests, crew and the communities we visit.

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