David Selby, managing director of Travelyields and former managing director of Thomson Cruises.
The recent sinking of the Costa Concordia off Giglio on Friday night was clearly a major tragedy and our thoughts must go to the victims and their families.
However, as the aftermath starts to set in, there are many people both inside and outside the cruise industry asking how such a huge accident can happen on such a large, modern ship in this day and age.
Cruising has become a huge business. Around 1.7 million of us Brits went cruising last year – double that of ten years ago - and across Europe the number was closer to six million.
The opportunity to see so many places in one holiday, combined with the vast array of facilities on board modern ships, has made cruising a mainstream holiday experience. Cruising is fun, but behind the scenes it is extremely serious.
As managing director of Thomson Cruises for a number of years, I was extremely happy that the operation for which I was responsible was so highly regulated.
Whether it was through the “Flag State” (the maritime authority of the country to which the ship is registered), the “Classification Society” (auditing surveyors which certify an operation based on the ship’s structure, technical seaworthiness and the crews ability to perform in an in an emergency scenario) or the “Port State Control” (which can detain a ship if it feels that there is danger or a significant health issue to passengers and crew), the whole operation would be regularly tested.
Notwithstanding that, internal safety management systems were also consistently reviewed and refined, and regular crew training put in place to ensure they were understood. Both the trade and consumers alike can be assured that cruising remains one of the safest forms of holiday.
While training can never cover for every eventuality, it would appear that in this particular incident, the crew at large made some good decisions, and given that, we can be grateful that out of over 4000 passengers onboard the number of people unaccounted for is not greater.
Thereafter, however, shore-side stories from passengers suggesting, for example, that they did not have any money for a change of clothes for up to 24 hours, are not good, but this illustrates the complex logistics of providing for every requirement in such a pressurised situation.
There is no good time for such an event to occur, but coming on the second weekend of January is particularly unwelcome from a booking perspective.
From the agents to whom I have spoken, however, bookings have so far held stronger than one might expect. As a result, I expect confidence to return and cruising to continue to grow in popularity.
The industry will emerge stronger from the various questions being asked of it currently. This event should not put off anybody either selling or taking a cruise in the future.
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