Coronavirus and winning back avid cruisers

With baseball finally returning in July, Americans can breathe a sigh of relief. Well, for that, yes! The recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic is far from over. Much normalcy is yet to be resumed. Presently, the cruise line industry is still at a pause until the CDC issues further guidelines. The cruise lines also have to submit to the CDC their individual response plans in regards to dealing with on-board health emergencies. Once the Coronavirus has gone away, and the travel industry can slowly return to normal operations, the ongoing concern still exists. How are the cruise lines planning to welcome and/or win back cruisers, and at best, their utmost loyal cruisers?  The onboard perks are merely endless, depending on their level. So, how are the cruise lines going to bring back these utmost valued cruisers, the cruisers who call a cruise ship “home” more than once a year? There are 5 possible ways this can be achieved.

Avid cruisers are members of loyalty programs including Crown & Anchor Society (Royal Caribbean), VIFP (Carnival), Latitudes (Norwegian), and Captain’s Circle (Princess). Some have cruised twenty or more times overall, while some have sailed more than twenty times with the same cruise line. It’s a mix of both. When the cruise lines return to service, ships will be sailing at only 50% capacity for starters to ensure social distancing. Once the threat of Coronavirus is gone hopefully by 2021, the cruise lines will return to full capacity. But, what will it take for avid cruisers to return to the waves in the wake of the most unprecedented global health crisis? After recently conversing with a northern New Jersey couple, here are the top five musts they shared.

At #5, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), should and must do an announced inspection of every ship once tied up at the pier. This is to assure that prior to boarding, the staterooms and public spaces alike, are sailing-worthy. Already, cruise ships are subject to detailed health inspections by local authorities. Further, if a Norovirus outbreak occurred on board during the previous cruise, the ship is thoroughly scrubbed down from bow to stern before any guests step aboard. The CDC should and must test surfaces, the air quality, and thoroughly inspect all major traffic areas where guests convene. Also, the CDC should and must inspect all crew and staff areas to make sure that they’re in full compliance before any guests step aboard. Last but not least, the CDC should and must subject the crew and staff to a health crisis exercise, to make sure they know how to respond to the worst of health crises, including Norovirus, not excluding Coronavirus.

At #4, the travel agents should and must step up their game. Since travel agents make the most money on cruise vacations, they should take on the bigger responsibility of educating customers regarding health-related concerns including Coronavirus. Travel agency companies, such as Liberty Travel, Cruise One, and Cruise Planners must implement a protocol for handling their customers’ fears regarding returning to cruising. Travel agents should and must maintain constant contact with the cruise lines with regards to the ongoing efforts to ensuring the guests’ health and safety at sea. Yes, travel agents have enough responsibilities on their plate including properly booking their customers, answering to their cruising needs, and advising them of the proper documentation needed for their sailing day. More than anything, travel agents are responsible for collecting their commission on cruise vacations upon the completion of their customers’ trips.

Coming in at #3, testing should and must be made a high priority for all crew and staff members. All crew and staff members must be tested for Coronavirus. As many know, cruise passengers share a ship in mass numbers. Nowadays, cruise ships carry up to over 6,000 guests. It’s paramount for all crew and staff members to be kept healthy at all times. Testing should and must be conducted on all crew and staff members on a monthly, or some suggest a weekly basis. Diligent testing should also be conducted on all shore staff, regardless of port city. Across the United States, testing is being conducted week-in and week-out to ensure a flattening of the curve. Not only will testing be a crucial tool to keeping cruise ships in healthy status, but the lives of the crew, staff, and guests depend on it. While a vaccine is in the development phases, testing is paramount to keeping the public healthy at all times.

The #2 must-do for the cruise lines during these challenging times is testing the air circulation on board all cruise ships. All of the airlines contend that the air circulation onboard is the cleanest and the utmost breathable, hands down. Since March, cruise ships have had no guests onboard. It causes many to wonder how clean the ships are without any guests onboard. The Coronavirus, like all flu-related illnesses, need some form of air circulation for germs to spread about. Just like on airplanes, the air circulation should be just as normal and clean. Onboard maintenance should thoroughly inspect the air vents throughout the ship to ensure there is no harmful dust or potentially dangerous particles that guests could breathe in, causing any type of health complications. Whether at home, at work, or on vacation, air circulation is a must. It is key. No one deserves to come down seriously ill after a one-week getaway. In order for cruise ships to be health hazard-free, air circulation will need to be picture perfect, just as all guests picture their cruise vacation to be.

Finally at #1, everyone loves eating upstairs at the buffet. Whether on sailing day, or going for a late-in-the-day snack before dinner, the buffet is the go-to for all guests. The buffet will be seeing many changes in the near future. Either serving tongs will need to be switched out to prevent the spreading of germs, or the dining staff only will be allowed to serve the guests. Many have shared their observations of fellow guests. Some guests have the worst dining etiquette at sea. At the buffet, guests uncontrollably fill up their plates with mountains of food. If they see a banana, they pick it up, and if they don’t want it, they put it back. Kind of gross, agreed? The same happens at all serving areas. Once seated, they make a mess, spreading germs all about. Worst of all, they don’t even clean up after themselves. The carving stations and pizza parlors are among a handful of areas where the culinary staff serves the guests. In the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, the buffet is expected to be tweaked to ensure the health and safety of all guests. Ultimately, hand-washing and constant use of hand sanitizing gel will be strongly enforced upon entrance and exiting the buffet.

The Coronavirus has the hit the travel industry hard. It’s unfortunate to see no cruise ships sailing, delayed openings of theme parks, and beaches at half capacity. The list goes on. In the cruise line industry, the situation can’t be more crucial. Before the cruise ships return to service and the guests return to enjoying those one or two-week getaways, a variety of concerns need to be addressed. The CDC needs to strictly inspect every ship to ensure that they’re tap-for-tap, in compliance. Travel agents will need to do more than just sell cruises and count their loot. Testing should be conducted on a timely basis to ensure that all crew and staff are in healthy standing.  The air circulation onboard should be picture perfect. The buffets will need to be in spic-and-span order, and dining staff will need to heavily emphasize the vitality of hand-washing and sanitizing. Cruising is a great way to see the world, whether in seven or fifteen days. The Coronavirus, without-a-doubt, has posed a challenging test on the cruising industry. If the cruise lines, including their administration and everyone else involved, can step up their game and do their due diligence, the avid cruisers will once again have a great time as always. Without-a-doubt, the cruise line industry will pass with flying colors just as crystal blue as the waves below.


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