Universal Testing Key to Resume Cruising

The global pandemic ground the world to a halt and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) halted the U.S. cruise industry with their ‘no sail order.’  It now appears the path to resuming cruising in the U.S. could be paved with universal testing. Pending government approval, North America could follow Europe with successful post-COVID cruising.  With science, industry collaboration and hard work, cruising is ready to restart. Arnold Donald, President and CEO, Carnival Corp. & plc. put it this way, “perhaps no other industry in the world has worked harder to study the science and create operational protocols to ensure the safety of their guests and employees”.

The CDC closed the public comment period on September 21, and the Healthy Sail Panel formed by Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. have submitted their recommendations, as well as Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).  Combining stringent protocols with science and expert input from the Healthy Sail Panel provides a clear plan for all CLIA members to follow. In a recent CLIA news conference, Richard Fain, Chairman and CEO, Royal Caribbean Group said, “We all share these goals and will get there by collaboration, not competition.”

These recommendations closely follow the protocols that have successfully been used in Europe since the end of August and have provided a “foundation for optimism,” said Goldstein, association Global Chairman. “Guests are happy. They see these protocols are working,” he said. “We have demonstrated cruising can take place in a safe way.”

The most significant development is that CLIA members have committed to testing 100% of passengers and crew for COVID-19 prior to embarkation. With science guiding the testing, the Healthy Sail Panel recommends that all crew be tested for SARS-CoV-2 between 5 days and 24 hours prior to leaving their home and receive a negative test result. Once on the ship, they must quarantine for seven days, and take a test at the end of that seven day period and receive a negative result before beginning their duties onboard. Similarly, guests must also receive a negative test result between 5 days and 24 hours before boarding, and the test result must be shared with the cruise line before boarding the vessel. When looking at the already open hospitality industry in North America, cruising is “Unlike any other sector of travel, every cruise line member of CLIA will test every guest and crew member,” Adam Goldstein said. The new cruising normal starts with testing, but additional temperature checks throughout the voyage and frequent crew testing are a critical component of the recommendations sent to the CDC.

Additional measures have been created should someone test positive while onboard.  Isolation cabins have been identified and logistics have been prearranged with destination partners to safely disembark a COVID-19 positive patient.

Additional enhancements to prevent the spread of infection include upgrading of onboard air systems with enhanced filters and technologies and cruise lines have committed to air management and ventilation strategies for increased fresh air on board.

In addition to masks being required, physical distancing is also a key factor to keeping everyone healthy.  Cruise ships are social, communal environments and while physical distancing is antithetical to the concept of cruising, the cruise lines have committed to making this possible by managing the flow in dining and entertainment venues. Cruising may look different in some ways but the changes are necessary to ensure a healthy voyage.

Shore excursions have been a hot topic of conversation which the cruise lines have addressed by creating safe “bubbles.”  By limiting shore excursions to approved operators who adhere to cruise line guidelines, the bubble is kept intact. Guests who don’t comply with the shore excursion bubble model will be denied reboarding as we saw with MSC Cruises in Naples in August. This won’t work if only the cruise lines are committed to keeping the cruise bubble intact; guests also have to be committed to following the rules for the greater good. It only takes one guest to burst the bubble and have a negative outcome that would put the cruise industry back at square one.

All these new guidelines are put in place to create consumer confidence as well as to get the CDC’s approval to sail again. Once the CDC gives the all-clear, it is estimated to take about 30 days to get crew in place, conduct training and get things in order to have a ship ready to sail. The cruise industry is ready and taking all the necessary precautions and preparations. Gloria Guevara, president and CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council applauds CLIA and the Healthy Sail Panel. “We need to resume travel, especially to the 1,000 destinations around the world that receive cruises.” She added “Jobs are depending on it: 121m tourism jobs have been lost or impacted by the pandemic.”

This post was written by cruise expert, Shannon Mckee, founder of Access Cruise Inc. Access Cruise Inc is a Miami based cruise marketing and sales consulting group, specializing in product and business development within the cruise industry.

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