Cruises ‘optimistic’ about May restart date but ‘too early’ to know if vaccine will help

Scenic Eclipse captain discusses safety protocols on cruise ship

Cruise popularity was relishing in a year-on-year boost in popularity at the beginning of 2020. However, this was soon dashed by the arrival of COVID-19 and the subsequent worldwide lockdowns that followed.

After almost a year of travel bans, though, Nichola Absalom, director of global brand at luxury cruise line Scenic, says she is “optimistic” some cruises could resume as soon as May.

Her optimism comes in line with “new protocols” which have been rolled out by the cruise company in line with World Health Organisation guidance, as well as the ongoing global vaccination effort.

According to Ms Absalom Scenic “quite simply do not know” a set date when cruises will be given the green light to return to sailing.

However, she remains hopeful “smaller vessels” will have the opportunity to welcome guests back onboard by the late spring and early summer months.

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“It all depends on the speed in which the vaccine can be rolled out across the globe,” she told Express.co.uk.

“We are hopeful for May 2021 but we, like everyone else we have to wait and see.

“Given that Scenic operates a fleet of small-capacity vessels, we are optimistic that small ship cruises will be among the first to return when we can start sailing again.”

Though the vaccine is being hailed as the ticket out of the current global restrictions, with 3,981,445 Britons alone inoculated as of January 17, Ms Absalom says it isn’t clear whether or not this will provide the vital life raft needed by the travel industry.

“While the vaccination roll-out is a positive development for the travel industry as a whole, it is too early to comment how this will impact travel and cruising in the future,” she said.

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Despite this, the luxury cruise firm has already seen “consumer confidence” returning.

“Absolutely. We are already seeing some of the pent-up demand for luxury cruising returning,” Ms Absalom said.

“The flexible booking options available, where guests can change their booking up to 60 days prior to departure, low deposits and special booking offers have given guests the confidence to think about cruising again.

“As members of ABTA and ATOL we are committed to delivering the highest standards for our guests and ensuring they are financially protected in the event of any unforeseen circumstances.”

Though some cruise lines, including Saga, have already stated guests must be vaccinated before boarding in the future, Scenic has not mentioned any plans associated with the vaccine.

Instead, the cruise line says it is committed to “guest’s and crew’s health, safety and wellbeing”.

As a result, Scenic has been working hard on new protocols for holidaymakers as part of its “return to service plan.”

“Even prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, all Scenic Group cruises operated to the highest standards of Public Health,” Ms Absalom explained.

“In response to the COVID-19 challenge, these standards have all been reviewed, supplemented where required, and implemented ready for us to commence sailing again.

“We have a comprehensive ‘Return to Service’ Plan and have worked closely throughout the pandemic with Industry bodies including IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators), AECO (Association of Arctic Cruise Operators) and CLIA (Cruise Line International Association).

“Scenic has gone above and beyond to ensure the safety of all our guests and crew across all our river vessels and our ocean-going ultra-luxury discovery yacht, Scenic Eclipse.”

New measures include pre-departure health evaluations and COVID-19 testing during the phased embarkation process for all guests and crew.

Temperature checks will be in place for passengers and crew, with special facial recognition technology used onboard the Scenic Eclipse vessel.

Across all of its fleet, Scenic will ramp up hygiene measures, onboard ventilation with the addition of new HEPA filters and the continuous replacement of fresh air into cabins and public spaces.

Guests will be asked to observe physical distancing where necessary and encouraged to carry facemasks with them.

Each ship will be kitted out with informative signing and floor markings to help make physical distancing easier, and guests will be provided with face masks in sustains where distancing is not possible, such as on intimate excursions.

Finally, in case of a patient developing COVID-19 while travelling, allocated quarantine cabins will be designated.

Despite the extensive measures, Ms Absalom is confident they will not negatively impact the cruise adventure.

“The biggest difference that the cruising industry as a whole will see is the remove of buffet-style dining,” she said.

“Thankfully, this is an insignificant part of a cruise holiday and therefore unlikely to affect the overall cruise experience for guests.

She added: “Our commitment to the extraordinary all-inclusive travel experience of Scenic, our guest’s and crew’s health, safety and wellbeing remains our key priority.

“We expect the impact of our new procedures to guests to be minimal.”

Joseph Grimley, director of trade sales, added: “We are looking forward to welcoming guests again and want them to feel confident knowing that Scenic Eclipse has gone above and beyond with our health and safety protocols.”

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