How companies can cruise past the pandemic

We hear from Marella Cruises and Mystic Cruises about how to win business back

How companies can cruise past the pandemic
Mystic Cruises owns a fleet of ocean and expedition cruise ships, which are chartered to different brands

By Rebecca Gibson |

When the Covid-19 pandemic halted all cruise operations around the world in early 2020, many predicted that the subsequent travel restrictions and health and safety fears would curb travellers’ wanderlust for years to come. However, many cruise operators have since reported the opposite, receiving bookings for cruises in 2021 and beyond.

“We expect there will be huge demand for travel once the uncertainty ends because people love exploring new places,” says Neil Duncan, head of trading and planning at Marella Cruises. “Some guests may prefer to take cruises that are closer to home than in the past, but most will be happy to go globetrotting again.”

Another operator that has seen renewed interest in cruising is Mystic Cruises, which owns a fleet of ocean and expedition cruise ships that are chartered out on long-term contracts to international brands such as Quark Expeditions and Germany-based line Nicko Cruises. Mystic Cruises also owns Atlas Ocean Voyages, which operates as its sales and marketing arm in the USA.

“Initially, the pandemic halted everything but now that we’re seeing businesses reopening around the world and some cruise operations resuming safely in Europe, travellers are becoming more confident and our charter partners have seen some increased bookings for 2021,” says James Cabello, operations and product development executive at Mystic Cruises.

To help entice cruise guests back to the seas, Marella Cruises and Mystic Cruises’ and its charter partners have all developed new health and safety procedures that will allow them to mitigate the spread of the virus on their ships, while still delivering enjoyable cruise experiences.

“Our charter partners have been very creative and introduced a range of measures, which are designed to give our guests confidence in cruising,” says Cabello. “All our partners are allowing guests much more flexibility with their bookings and adding various extra insurances. Atlas Ocean Voyages, for example, is the first and only cruise brand to include emergency medical evacuation and return-to-home insurance in the booking.”

Meanwhile Marella Cruises has introduced the Marella Promise, which sets out five key commitments to guests. They include a pledge to deliver safe and enjoyable cruises, provide quarantine-free itineraries, guarantee Marella Cruises’ high standards on every voyage, offer 24- hour support to guests, and give customers the flexibility to change their bookings.

“We vow to deliver the type of highquality cruise experiences our brilliant customers expect, so our voyages won’t go ahead if they will be negatively impacted by significant changes to itineraries, onboard offerings or onshore facilities,” says Duncan. “Similarly, we won’t travel to destinations that require guests to quarantine on arrival, and we’ll offer passengers a variety of options if they need to amend their bookings.”

To fulfil its promises, Marella has made changes to the onboard experience too. “We know that the dining, the pool and the entertainment programme are important aspects of every Marella cruise, so we’ve implemented measures to ensure our guests can still enjoy these safely,” says Duncan. “For example, we’ll operate a cashless system, ask guests to use our Navigate app to book restaurants and shore excursions, and provide table service in buffet restaurants. Meanwhile, our entertainment programme and pool area will operate as normal but will be set up to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Most importantly, all our crew members will undergo Covid-19 training, wear protective equipment and will be available to provide 24/7 support to guests, both onboard the ships and onshore.”

Creating compelling itineraries will also play a pivotal role in encouraging travellers to consider cruising again. For Mystic Cruises, this means collaborating closely with its charter partners to ensure they can all provide the types of itineraries that will be relevant to their guests.

“In the short term, all our charter partners have asked us to redeploy our vessels so they’re operating closer to home for their main source markets,” says Cabello. “Of course, I’m always looking for new and unique destinations, especially smaller ports and marinas that are only accessible to small cruise ships like ours. However, some of these destinations are not the typical marquee ports that everyone wants to visit, such as Santorini or Monte Carlo. Hence, our clients may ask us to revise our suggested deployments and incorporate well-known places to encourage guests to book, particularly in the wake of the pandemic.”

Bookings are increasing for cruises further afield in 2021 and 2022, suggesting that the road less travelled may be more popular in future. “Baltic itineraries seem to be most popular with guests of our Germany-based operator Nicko Cruises because they can easily drive to the German cities of Kiel and Hamburg for embarkation,” explains Cabello. “Meanwhile, Atlas Ocean Voyages’ most sought-after 2021-2022 itineraries seem to be the Black Sea circumnavigations, which include unique overland adventures to Moscow, Russia and Chernobyl, Ukraine; voyages with multiple stops in Egypt and Israel; and the ‘Total Eclipse’ cruise from Ushuaia, Argentina including a call in Antarctica.”

Marella Cruises is experiencing similar demand for cruises to both familiar and lesser-known destinations in 2021 and beyond.

“We must cater to all our guests, so it’s imperative that we continue to offer the high-performing traditional routes they love, but it’s equally important that we plan fresh itineraries as they also enjoy exploring new places,” says Duncan. “Our summer 2021 Adriatic cruises from Corfu are performing very well because they include well-known destinations like Venice, Dubrovnik and Athens – all famous spots that aren’t too far from home for our European guests. However, our 2022 Asia itineraries to Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines and Vietnam, and our Caribbean programme to Cuba, are generating a lot of interest, which highlights that customers’ demand to travel to exotic and exciting destinations will continue in the long term.”

This article was first published in the 2020 issue of Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

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