Cruise lines need to manage spaces, not limit capacity, says the boss of the world’s largest cruise company, who believes the “most important” thing for the sector’s return its mitigating the risk of spread of Covid on ships.

Arnold Donald, president and chief executive of Carnival Corporation, was speaking about the company’s gradual return to cruising during Travel Weekly’s Future of Travel Week.

Its Italian brand, Costa Cruises (pictured), was its first back with a sailing out of Trieste on September 6, and a second Costa sailing has since departed while its German line Aida Cruises is soon to return to the water.

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“We’re excited to have a ship with guests on it again,” said Donald. “At this point of time the mitigation of community spread has been reasonably effective.”

Explaining the new safety measures on board to prevent the spread of Covid, Donald said ships would also have universal testing protocols installed in case they’re needed “down the road” to “mitigate the risk of getting multiple cases on board”.

Carnival’s lines will have testing at embarkation and on board to identify those who test positive, but Donald said the “most important thing” is mitigation of the spread of Covid.

To reduce the risk of spread, Carnival lines’ ships will have physical distancing, passengers are required to wear masks if physical distancing isn’t possible, and ships onboard medical facilities will be “amped up” to help with screening if necessary, explained Donald.

He added: “People talk about managing the capacity on the ship, but the reality is you want to manage the spaces on the ship. Doing that will determine the number of guests that you can have.”

Lines will abide by the protocols of the country they are sailing in.

Donald was keen to stress the first Costa cruise back had no cases of Covid detected, and said “hopefully that will continue to be the case”.

However, he accepted that: “Eventually, as in society, it’s going to end up on a ship. That’s the way it’s going to be. The trick is to make sure we’re mitigating a spread. Just because it’s on a ship, everybody on the ship isn’t exposed.”

He said cruise was however restricted to certain ports when it resumes, partly to ensure guests could be disembarked and repatriated quickly, and partly because many ports were yet to reopen.

“We do not want to hold up thousands of people on board because one person is suspected of having Covid, or does have it. It’s not necessary, it’s not required to serve the best interests of public health,” said Donald. “We want to have effective protocols that come from medical and science experts and we are going to be in compliance wherever we go. So far we are doing well. It’s early days and it’s such a fluid situation.”

“Hopefully we can get to a point where there’s a low-cost, rapid test that’s not invasive. That will ease a lot of the current consternation,” said Donald who said that as treatment of Covid improves across the world and rates of deaths and hospitalisations reduce – the less risk it poses to travellers.

“We are just a reflection of society at large,” he added. “Cruise is a wonderful experience, but cruise is really a city at sea. Whatever’s happening shoreside will impact us. It’s not like we’re driving anything, we’re being driven by what happens at society at large.”