Framework for UK Cruise Operations during COVID-19

This week, the UK cruise industry came together with the UK Chamber of Shipping to launch a Framework to enable the relaunch of cruises for British passengers when the time is right I the light of COVID-19. But what does this mean for the passenger?

The cruise industry generates £10 Billion for the UK economy annually, supporting over 88,000 total jobs. And as cruising is one of the most popular ways to travel, with 1.2 million passengers embarking from a cruise in the UK in 2019, it’s a cornerstone to the UK travel industry.

First and foremost, for me, importantly this has been done in collaboration with Cruise Lines International Associate (CLIA) and the cruise industry – this could only ever have worked through collaboration between operators, industry partners and of course health experts.

Alas, there is no current restart date for the UK cruise industry, however, this feels very much like the foundation of how they will look to do this – so, for me, the takeaway headline is that this is very positive though perhaps lacking in some key areas, most notably in testing.  And I look forward to seeing this really positive step being combined with wider global policy.

So, let’s take a look at the proposals.

Before you embark

  • Guests will be provided with relevant public information and pre-travel information on mitigating the risk of COVID-19. They must understand the health requirements of each of the countries they are looking  to visit and should check current FCO advice on travel.
  • Guests will be screened prior to embarkation, and if you are identified as having been exposed of infected, you may be denied boarding.
  • An enhanced health declaration form will be developed which guests will need to fill out.
  • You will require the appropriate travel insurance, including understanding how it relates to COVID-19

Embarkation

  • Only sailing passengers will be allowed in port terminals and will need to adhere to current guidelines in wearing face coverings. As part of embarkation, you may be advised where to sit, how to queue and other administration.  Cruise lines will no doubt stagger arrival times so as to minimise the numbers at cruise terminals at any one time.
  • Further medical screening may take place as a pre-boarding precaution, e.g. temperature checks and other tests.

Onboard

Food and beverage

  • You may be required to pre-book a table at all food or beverage venues on board or be given an allocated time for each meal. This is not far off what we have already on cruises and again, like other venues, maximum capacity will be reduced.
  • You may be asked to only dine with your household or travelling group bubble.
  • Self-service food and beverage operations will only be made available when in line with current UK Government guidance.

Entertainment

  • Entertainment programmes on board will be adapted to minimise risks on board. This will be down to the cruise line to amend, but I would imagine smaller audiences, shorter shows and other measures.

Other spaces

  • All other spaces on board will require guests to adhere to the most current UK Government guidelines. This will no doubt include wearing face coverings in public spaces where possible, social distancing, hand washing/alcohol gel, temperature checks and other measures. This includes, for example, salons, spas, shops, nursery’s and children’s areas.  Passenger laundrettes will be closed to passengers.
  • As expected, guests will be encouraged to spend as much time outside as possible, i.e. on deck. As such, loungers, chairs and other furniture will be spaced out accordingly.  Additional risk assessments will be undertaken on facilities such as hot tubs, pools and within areas of the spa.
  • Guests will also be encouraged to not use lifts wherever possible, unless they have a mobility impairment. And lift capacities will be reduced.

Technology and operations

  • The use of technology is something I’ve spoken about for a while now, and if you look at other operators, such as MSC Cruises, is something that’s proactively being used to support all the measures above. Importantly, it could help a huge amount with track and trace on board and enable people to go about their daily business without as much interference. We’ll have to wait and see how this works going forward.
  • Behind the scenes there will be a whole host of other measures to support operations and health, including things such as upgraded ventilation systems, which many cruise lines are already looking at.
  • Of course, ships will be continuously and thoroughly sanitised before, after and throughout a cruise. Lines are already looking at a variety of techniques here including new disinfectants, more frequent cleaning and other areas such as disinfectant fogging machines in cabins.
  • The framework also outlines the need for cruise lines to have a clear contingency plan in place to be executed if infection is found. This includes isolating the individual or group until tests are done, contact tracing, cleaning and disinfection, and communication with relevant authorities. This, again, seems like common sense and mirrors much of what is being done on land.  Specific groups of cabins will be designated for isolation purposes

Shore excursions

  • Shore excursions, which are a fundamental part of cruising for certain passengers, have been modified to ensure that the safety of passengers and seafarers can be upheld. Operators will not let passengers disembark in countries which are not on the UK’s travel corridor list, and shore excursions offered by operators will provide health measures comparable to those onboard the ship.
  • This includes social distancing, mandatory use of face coverings and hand hygiene facilities during excursions. You may well be screened as you re-embark the ship.  This again follows the current operations of lines such as MSC and Costa.

Disembarkation

  • As you would expect, upon arrival guests should comply with border and immigration requirements. You will have to show a passenger locator form
  • The framework does highlight that depending on the destination you may have visited, that guests may be required to self-isolate in line with the current UK guidelines.

So, what do you think?

There’s a lot of take in there and you can read the full guidance here.  For me, nothing here is truly a surprise and I feel very reassured and quite positive with the measures that are being discussed and developed.

The one key area that the Framework does not actively consider and promote is testing and I think we’ll see a lot more debate and discussion in this area, similar to airports.  Since the publication of the framework, all CLIA ocean lines have agreed to testing all passengers and crew prior to embarkation. You will understandably need a negative test in order to board. I think this is hugely positive.

But what do you think?  Let me know in the comments and on social media.