What were your initial thoughts when cruise ships were ordered to suspend operations due to the unfolding pandemic?
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and our ocean-going cruise line members voluntarily suspended global operations in mid-March 2020. It was impressive to witness the focus and commitment of our cruise line and port partners bringing in hundreds of thousands of passengers and crew from ships around the world and delivering them home to more than 100 countries amid rapidly closing borders and ever-changing travel restrictions. Our members went above and beyond to put people first and prioritise their health and safety, including chartering private ground transportation and flights at great cost. CLIA was proud to support the enormous repatriation effort by interfacing with governments and local authorities across the globe.
What have been your main focuses since?
CLIA is focused on supporting our community through government relations, public affairs, policy development and strategic communications efforts. From making the case for financial relief on behalf of the small and medium-sized businesses that make up our travel trade and supplier base, to providing the platform for the sharing of best practices and information between and amongst our members and experts through new virtual platforms, to representing the industry at countless forums, CLIA is working around the clock to facilitate a responsible return, so that the 1.2 million people who rely on a functioning cruise industry can recover from the economic fallout.
How did your role change in response to the situation?
I can tell you that neither myself nor my colleagues have gotten much rest over the past year and a half. The global nature of the cruise business means that it’s always morning somewhere. Like everyone else we are working with fewer staff and resources – our team is constantly working and our days are filled with meeting with and connecting members, stakeholders, government officials, and experts to advance the responsible resumption of operations. All the while, we have continued to keep our eye on environmental sustainability, destination stewardship, workforce development, social and economic impact, and of course, health and safety.
What have been the challenges and frustrations along the way?
Repatriating passengers and crew was one of the earliest and toughest challenges. The next challenge has been working with governments around the world to establish a framework for restarting operations when the public health landscape and knowledge about the virus was continuously evolving. Different countries have varying policies – keeping up with those policies and continually positioning the industry as leaders in responsible tourism has been an immense challenge. I would also add that the outsized attention the industry has received is a challenge that we continue to face. I firmly believe there is no other industry in the world that has gone to such lengths to prioritise the public health of customers, employees, and the public.
What role has CLIA played in helping members to establish new health and safety protocols?
CLIA and our member lines dedicated the time during the pause in operations to invest in research, worked with global experts, and closely cooperated with national and regional health, transport, and safety authorities in specific regions to develop world-leading health and safety protocols. In addition, CLIA representatives have worked in public-private partnership with several governments to support the development of region-specific frameworks that have paved the way for some sailing to return as early as last summer and continue this summer in Europe, South Pacific, parts of Asia, the UK and parts of North America. CLIA launched a Ready, Set, Sail campaign in the USA that helped pave the way toward resuming operations in late June. Following the success of this campaign, we launched the Ready, Set, Sail campaign in Australia which generated over 40,000 messages to local members of parliament and key ministers highlighting the impact the suspension has had on Australian businesses and workers.
How is CLIA helping members to resume operations in various markets?
We have been actively engaged in dialogue with health and government officials around the world to develop frameworks for the resumption of cruising. As a result of the protocols that have been adopted since resumption began, the incidence rate of Covid-19 onboard is far lower than practically any other setting – a remarkable achievement. Any cases that have arisen have been managed expertly and in a manner that mitigates spread without burden on governments, communities, or health care systems.
What are your predictions for the future of the global cruise industry?
Demand for cruising remains high, but we have our work cut out if we are going to meet supply expectations in the coming years. The good news is that people love to cruise, and cruisers are back to their pre-pandemic levels of enthusiasm, with 82 per cent saying that they are likely to cruise again soon. I am confident that, together with our travel trade partners, we will see cruise once again become one of the fastest growing and most attractive holiday options.
What positive effects (if any) do you think the pandemic will have on the industry?
I have never seen an entire community come together the way the cruise community has in the face of this pandemic. We would not have been able to overcome the devastating impacts if it were not for the resilience and support of the wider cruise community. There was truly a feeling of ‘we are in this together’. In future, CLIA will look for opportunities to keep the community banded together in this way because it is so incredibly clear that our whole is bigger than the sum of our parts.
What in your opinion has been the most devastating effect of the pandemic?
By far, the most devastating effect has been the impact on the people and communities who rely on this industry for their livelihoods. People in places where cruise tourism is such an important part of the local economy, and crew members who hail from over 100 countries and who support generations of family members using the incomes that they earn. The stories I have heard are simply heartbreaking, but they have also been a powerful force to propel us forward. There are several key learnings that people, businesses, organisations, communities, governments and others will benefit from for the future. The cruise industry will use that hindsight to be better and stronger. Despite the continued uncertainty, I remain optimistic about the future. Firstly, there is significant demand for cruise travel to return. Research tells us that 82 per cent of previous passengers would cruise again, a relatively small drop compared with 80 per cent in December 2019. Secondly, the resurgence of cruise travel in Europe, UK, North America and parts of Asia – albeit at a reduced capacity – can act as a roadmap for destinations where cruising has not yet restarted, like Canada.
What are your priorities for the rest of 2021 and 2022?
Furthering the responsible resumption of operations will continue to be the foremost priority. That said, even as CLIA and our members have worked intensely over the past 18 months, the industry has remained focused on its commitment to responsible tourism and a more sustainable future. Reducing our environmental footprint and continuing to work closely with destinations and communities to be good stewards of the places we visit are key focus areas, and I predict that we will see many more exciting developments in coming years.
This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
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