Returning to the homeland after the pandemic

Federico Bartoli tells Susan Parker why Costa Cruises is focusing on its long history with Italy as its primary route back to cruising

Returning to the homeland after the pandemic
Costa Smeralda aims to resume operations from Savona, Italy, in March 2021

Costa Cruises was one of very few cruise brands to successfully and safely resume operations in 2020. And, while the proverb “fortune favours the brave” may not quite encapsulate the Trojan effort the brand put into making this happen, congratulations are nevertheless due. 

For Federico Bartoli, the company’s itinerary planning director, the biggest task was to work out how to adapt its itinerary planning strategies in the face of Covid-19. 

“First of all, I must say that safety and security have always been the first pillar on which we base our itinerary planning, even before the Covid-19 emergency,” says Bartoli, adding that the other main pillars are guest satisfaction, nautical feasibility, accessibility, compliance, environmental protection, and the health and well-being of our guests, the people and places we visit and our crew.  

“The pandemic has obviously even more strengthened our focus on all aspects of safety and security. Our main strategy in the face of Covid-19 was to develop a new safety protocol in collaboration with a panel of experts, and in accordance with Italian authorities. This contains new operational measures in response to Covid-19 and deals with all aspects of the cruise experience, both on and off the ship.”  

Examples of the new measures include swab tests for all guests before embarkation, routine testing for crew, physical distancing, use of face masks whenever necessary, and requiring guests to take protected shore excursions when visiting destinations.  

Thanks to these new safety protocols, Costa was able to “responsibly and gradually” restart operations in Italy in September 2020. A few weeks later, the company also began calling at Greek ports. However, it was only able to do so for a limited period of time before the pandemic worsened and led to the introduction of new restrictions.  

“Since then, our work on itinerary planning has been almost exclusively focused on developing Italy-only itineraries to find solutions that fully meet our pillars,” says Bartoli. “Italy has been our home for 70 years and has always been at the core of our itinerary planning because it offers so many wonderful destinations, so there haven’t been any particular difficulties while doing this. We also have very strong connections with territories, communities, partners and relevant stakeholders in Italy.” 

Hence, in addition to the ports Costa usually visits – such as Savona, Civitavecchia, Naples, Bari and Trieste – it has also considered several new destinations, including Brindisi, Corigliano Calabro, Syracuse and Messina. “With every new port of call and itinerary, we always aim to offer the best possible holiday experience to our guests and revitalise the local tourism ecosystem,” says Bartoli. 

Costa hopes to bring an “ever-increasing number of ships” back into service in 2021, but Bartoli concedes that this will depend on the progress of the pandemic. “At the moment, our 2021 itinerary plan is focused on the Mediterranean and Northern Europe (only in summer),” he says. “The itineraries are not exactly the same as those we offered before the Covid-19 emergency, but they offer an excellent holiday experience. Of course, these programmes are subject to revisions, particularly in respect of the first part of 2021. They are also dependent on the evolution of governments’ decisions on restrictions and the reopening of new destinations, as well as on the decisions of the Italian authorities since we are an Italian-flagged company.” 

Despite the obstacles caused by the pandemic, Bartoli is optimistic that the cruise industry will bounce back well. “We are confident for the future. As soon as people are able to move without restrictions, our itineraries will offer the best way for them to return to travel because we have enhanced safety protocols and offer the opportunity to visit wonderful destinations, while taking advantage of our high-quality onboard services and experiences.” 

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

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Susan Parker
By Susan Parker
09 April 2021

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