Clia UK and Ireland chair Tony Roberts has insisted the ocean cruise sector is focused on a “return with longevity” after domestic sailings were given the go-ahead earlier this week.
Roberts, vice-president UK and Europe at Princess Cruises, said government confirmation that cruises in UK waters could restart from 17 May had given the industry “reassurance” to put plans in place to welcome back guests this summer.
Speaking during a Clia media call on Thursday (11 March), he described how domestic sailings would help "build a body of evidence" for the industry to prove the effectiveness of new health and safety protocols to the UK government and authorities in Europe.
This phased restart would then help pave the way for a wider return to cruising for UK lines to Europe and further afield - but Roberts said the process would be gradual.
“We want to make sure this is a successful return with longevity rather than rushing it and getting something wrong along the way.”
When asked how close to 17 May he believed lines could be ready to restart, Roberts told TTG a 12-week window was “a very real time period” but added it would depend on how individual lines had been preemptively preparing behind the scenes.
He described the “magnitude” of bringing ships back online after such a lengthy time in hibernation as being “similar to bringing a ship into full service... which is very challenging at the best of times”.
“It will take some time to get ships back into action but the feedback we’re getting from guests and the market tells us there is pent-up demand,” he said.
“We’re going to offer a staycation like no other and we’re feeling very excited and very confident about a successful return to UK cruising this summer and taking that first step for a return to the UK cruise industry.”
Meanwhile, Clia’s senior vice-president of global maritime policy, Brian Salerno, predicted Covid protocols - such as passenger testing and social distancing - would “remain in place for some time” despite the rollout of vaccines.
“We welcome the vaccinations being rolled out but realistically that’s going to take some time until enough of the population is vaccinated.
"We’ll probably have populations onboard with a mixture of some guests who are vaccinated and some are not, so we need to keep the protocols in place for that reason,” he said. "We’re in no rush to modify them [the protocols] and they are needed for us to resume."
Salerno also described governments in the UK and Europe as being “more willing to engage with industry” over the resumption of cruising than in the US.
“You are far ahead of the US in the UK and Europe… the CDC has been less enthusiastic.”
Salerno said Clia was “hopeful” new US president Joe Biden’s plan to offer vaccinations to all American adults by the end of May could represent a “fresh opportunity” for the US cruise sector to made headway with the CDC.