How might Coronavirus (Covid-19) change the face of cruising?

One question I’ve been asked over and over is how Coronavirus (COVID-19) will change the travel and cruise industry?  This devastating pandemic has brought the world to a standstill and has wrought so much loss – and my heart goes out to everyone in this challenging time.  Cruising has not escaped, with a lot of media coverage and now with fleets of ships mothballed across the world and anchored off the coast of many destinations while we weather the ongoing storm of this disease.

One thing is clear, we are all going to have to change and adapt. Cruising is no exception, with ships having to be rethought and behaviours changed.  I’ve sat and thought about all this a lot, and even when writing this post I considered not posting it at all, given everything that’s going on with the world.  But I feel it’s important for us to consider the future and how we will move forward into a new world and into a new normal.  So, how could cruising change in the future?  Here’s my five key thoughts.

Health

Of course, coming out of this pandemic, cruise lines will continue to need to have health at the centre of their operating models. Through this, I can imagine a scenario where we have enhanced screening operations, technology, apps and surveys that look to minimise the spread and impact on the virus.

However, you need to remember this is not a new challenge.  Cruise ships have some of the most robust health protocols, in order to address concerns such as Norovirus.  Sure, the challenge here is quite different and greater, but the industry has been challenged by authorities to develop specific plans to address COVID-19, much like Noro.

I can see enhanced screenings being part of the online check-in process and of course at the pier – where temperature and other checks are common place.  There are a lot of countries looking at health passports, though this is currently advised against by the WHO, but that’s not to say cruise lines couldn’t introduce something similar. If rapid testing becomes an accurate day-to-day occurrence, then this could also form part of an offering.

I feel ships already present a high standard of hygiene and is one reason I choose to cruise, with wash and sanitiser facilities readily available across ships, backed up by staff – but we will all have to put in the extra effort to ensure ships stay a safe space.  I can see this becoming much more prevalent, backed up by significant communications to change and reinforce behaviour.  There’s a video (below) that Royal Caribbean have used on their ships for a number of years, but I feel that it is even more important a message to push now and something we’ll see more of on ships (…oh, and sorry for the resulting earworm).

Things could go even further as we are all guided by science and experts such as the WHO.  One example is of course in terms of face masks.  Royal Caribbean has in fact already trade-marked a facemask design for use on its ships.  In what capacity is still unknown, but it signifies the broader response to come by the lines I feel.

Dining

The area that has perhaps come up the most in discussions has been in terms of dining.

I think we will see the end of the self-service buffet, to be replaced by an entirely staff focussed serving option with table service.  I think this is no bad thing, the venue will remain more casual, but just overseen by attentive staff.  I’ve never been a huge fan of how the buffets have been run (and in particular the behaviours of certain passengers if I’m honest), so personally, I think this is a huge positive where the whole experience can be elevated to benefit passengers and crew.

I think we’ll also see how venues operate changed, with less tables and more limitations on capacity at venues during any one sitting and a heavier reliance in terms of booking a dining slot.  Most lines do this anyway, so I don’t think this will be a huge change and technology will no doubt play a vital role in supporting the demand.  If anything, there’s opportunity here for the lines to create a more intimate experience with their guests as they dine.

Embracing technology

I’m a firm believer that this pandemic will result in a rapid investment and deployment in all sorts of technology across our day-today lives.  And again, this is something I feel cruise will embrace.  Cruising has always historically embraced and innovated when it comes to technology and this situation is no different.

I can see a scenario where drones and robots are actively applied to cruising.  So, much like other hotels and hospitals, sterilisation robots could be used to continually ensure a cruise ship is sterile.  Similarly, in terms of what chemicals are used in cleaning, etc. The London underground has implemented a new disinfectant that can last up to 30-days on surfaces to combat the spread of any germs.

Or how about interacting with a robot to cover all concierge queries?  This technology is not  new and is in fact robots are already used at airports, hotels and on some cruise lines.

Or, why not buy a drink from a robot?  This technology is something that Royal Caribbean first introduced in 2014 on board Quantum of the Seas and has been rolled out to numerous ships.  At the Bionic Bar you order your drink via an app and watch as your robot bartender creates the drink right in front of you.

Technology means different things to different people, and one area is of course medical.  So, I could easily imagine medical centres being upgraded in the future to be able to adapt to a variety of situations as required.

Design

Changes in design will be inevitable going forward.  While I feel technology will be able to go a long way to support staff and manage demand of passengers, there will have to be a new approach to how we cruise. I feel this will be in a number of areas.

One area that cruise ships have been called out on through the pandemic have been cabin sizes.  Now, I’m a firm believer that cabin design is actually really clever and at the forefront of interior design in some cases. However, adaptation will need to be at the core of an operating model going forward. So, for instance, will interior cabins continue to be available?  Some lines have already decided to not sell or use interior cabins, at least for the time being.

Venues on board ships will need to adapt to various social distancing scenarios.  I imagine this will need to be adaptable to whatever the current guidance is at the time, being able to distance passengers more or less. And again, technology will have a huge part to play in this.  Of course, cruise lines could totally rethink ships going forward, with very different venues overall.  Areas where classically we could be in closer interaction, such as a pool deck, will need to be planned and operated to reflect social distancing – with what I can imagine be up to 2m distancing potentially being commonplace.

This could also go down to the very simple things we take for granted – things like manual versus automatic doors, or how we use lifts (and their capacity), or our interaction with surfaces and the uses of materials across ships.

Change in perspective

A key area we will all need to work on is our own behaviours and perspective.  Things will change, they need to, and our part in that is in how we behave and treat our fellow human beings.  Respecting other people’s space and appreciating one another are, in my mind, some key positives that could come out of this situation.

I think this situation is making people generally revaluate life and I can totally see a situation where people want to have more life experiences while they travel.  I feel the cruise industry is already at the forefront of this, with many lines offering unique experiential excursions and activities, such as Azamara who defined what Destination Immersion means.  And I think this will continue to develop in the future.

I think there will also be higher demand for certain areas of cruising, for instance on river, where there is more space per passenger and less passengers overall. it will be interesting to see how people choose to travel in the future.

 

I, for one, cannot wait to get back on a ship and enjoy what I love in life, not to mention support an industry that I feel passionately about. And I know the sentiment is shared.  While there is of course concern specifically around COVID-19, there is definitely an underlying demand of past and future passengers still wanting to get back to sea – and why not, cruising represents such an incredible way to see the world.  And like in the past, the industry will rise to the challenge, adapt and move ahead, much like the rest of society will.

Will you cruise again?  Let me know in the comments and across social media.