Will Travellers Embrace New COVID Protocols On Cruise Lines? European Guest Feedback
Lynn Elmhirst, Open Jaw Trends Editor
MSC Magnifica in Genoa
When guests board ships again as early as February after nearly a year of no sailing, the experience will be transformed by new, stringent protocols: Multiple health tests before and throughout the cruise. Masks. Enforced physical distancing and barriers. Limiting points of contact to reduce exposure. Shore visits limited to the cruise line’s own excursions, with health protocols strictly enforced.
So the question on many travel advisors’ minds is: Will guests want to cruise under these new conditions?
Some cruise lines have already been sailing in places like Europe. Their guests’ feedback may surprise sceptical travel advisors.
The Europe-based cruise line welcomed over 20,000 EU guests on board its ships in the Mediterranean over the past few months. It led the way in establishing many of the health practices approved by the CDC for other cruise lines to adopt when they restart sailing.
Far from feeling too constrained by the protocols, Ian Patterson, Country Manager of MSC Cruises Canada says the new health practices give guests confidence.
“Our guests have expressed that, most importantly, they feel safe on board and that the new protocol hasn’t impacted how much they’ve enjoyed their vacation. They are taking advantage of all that the ships have to offer, from dining, entertainment, activities and more. And, with reduced capacity and social distancing in place, many have also described the ship as tranquil and zen-like.”
He shared one guest’s glowing comments about the complimentary MSC for Me wristbands given to all guests that allow no-touch, distanced scanning instead of handing over your cruise card, and also enable contact tracing. “A very strong security bubble is created,” the guest approved, “The protocol has made us feel very safe.”
And the ultimate tribute: “We have already seen guests rebook for another cruise after sailing with us since we’ve resumed cruising. In fact, as an example, one couple keeps re-booking and has been just staying on boardMSC Grandiosain the Mediterranean for weeks!”
Some MSC guests have even told the cruise line, “I think it is better to go on a cruise ship than in any public space on land”.
The river cruise line has received similar feedback from a series of cruises on board the AmaKristina for German-speaking guests. The company who organized the trips received one of their “highest guest satisfaction scores of 4.5 out of 5 with 97% of the guests recommending it to others,” saysKristin Karst, co-founder and executive vice president AmaWaterways.
AmaWaterways too was delighted how, “many guests asked to stay on for the next cruise or booked another cruise to come back.”
One guest endearingly pleaded, “I have one wish: Please remain open for the German market!”
In the midst of COVID and COVID protocols, there were even new-to-cruise guests. One of them reported, “It was our first river cruise and it was perfect all around.”
Like MSC, AmaWaterways has discovered health protocols are not just tolerated, but appreciated.
“Precautionary measures have become an important part of how we create the peace of mind environment that guests need to enjoy their river cruise experience, that are not an impediment to it,” said Karst.
One guest even made it his mission to help prove it.
“Guests were required to wear face coverings when moving around the interior areas of the ship, but could remove them once seated with correct physical distancing or plexiglass dividers in place. I loved that one of our guests actually calculated the amount of time on board that he had to wear his mask – he estimated it was a combined total of only about 15-20 minutes per day! He loved sharing this information with other guests!”
Lost in Translation?
The feedback to date has come from Europeans sailing in Europe, but will North Americans feel the same way?
“We are confident that the enjoyable experience our guests have had in Europe can be mirrored here in North America,” says MSC’s Patterson, who says the cruise line is introducing options for shorter, 3- and 4-day cruises along with standard 7-day cruises inMSC’s 2021 Caribbean season. That will give cruise travellers options to dip their toes in the water and try out the ‘new normal’ in cruising.
He also sees a big role for the cruise line’s Ocean Cay private island, “since it is an environment that we can control, and our comprehensive health and safety measures on board our ships will extend onto the island,” with full day and even overnight calls to maximize the opportunity for guests to enjoy being on shore.
AmaWaterways’ Karst points out thatriver cruising has some natural advantages post-COVID. Smaller ship size and guest capacity automatically reduce exposure, and a particular concern for many guests, “we are not in international waters so there is no worry about being denied entry into a country.”
She sees bookings in 2021 trending towards a slower pace, lingering longer in port, including overnights, an interest in less-traveled river cruise destinations, and longer stays. With pent up desire to travel, Future Travel Credits waiting to be used, along with stresses of air travel and reduced flight schedules, the line is seeing more requests for, “back-to-back cruises to create 14-night itineraries or adding our fully escorted pre- and post-cruise land programs.”
Robin LeBlevec- November 12, 2020 @ 15:48
My Canadian clients would love to cruise again. Many have rebooked and cancelled along with the rest of the world. This is encouraging to hear that some cruises are starting up again. My only question, for ocean cruising, I assume until all borders open again the guests will not be able to get off and roam around a city at leisure to see every port, is this accurate to say?
Kim Cable- November 11, 2020 @ 17:32
what about the reviews on not being allowed off the ship other than a ship sanctioned excursion? River cruises already include excursions so not as drastic but ocean cruising is different, your forced to pay more money and go in slow groups. Any reviews for this?
Tena Reid- November 11, 2020 @ 14:25
This is VERY encouraging.