Ports and cruise lines are working in collaboration with government, health bodies and maritime authorities, says Clia UK & Ireland director Andy Harmer

As this week’s ‘air bridge’ announcements see holiday flights begin to take off once more, the cruise industry is steadily paving the way towards the restart of cruise holidays.

There has been a lot of discussion on how people are going to travel by air – what airports will look like, new procedures in place on aircraft, what ‘air bridge’ locations are being confirmed this week – but there is much less of a focus on these same questions for ports and cruises.

A lot of work is going on in the background to transform the experience of taking a cruise.  The industry is working in collaboration with the government on a ‘door to door’ strategy – from the time of booking through to the passengers’ return home – that would go way beyond protocols in place or proposed for any other travel sector.

Throughout, Clia has been working closely with the Department for Transport, Port Health, Public Health England, and the Maritime & Coastguard Agency to develop the road map to resumption – what will happen from time of booking to embarkation at the port, onboard, ports of call, disembarkation and customer follow-up.

We are also engaged with public health professionals as we review the whole customer journey, from minimising the likelihood of on-board cases by thorough screening of each guest before departure, through comprehensive on-board management and repatriation plans should cases occur on board.

It may seem surprising to learn that the incidence rate of cases on board was extremely low, about 0.4%. but high media exposure does not equate to a higher incidence rate.  According to one study by the University of Massachusetts, cruise ships did not even land in the top 50 places for outbreak clusters.

However, the industry is no stranger to scrutiny and recognises its responsibilities in this respect – in fact, no other form of travel or entertainment has anything near the level of reporting requirements or screening protocols that have been standard in cruise for years.

Across Europe, cruise lines are working in close collaboration with the national governments of the main maritime nations to design the safe resumption of operations.  Regulatory initiatives led by the European Maritime Safety Agency and EU Healthy Gateways aim to set up a pan-European framework for maritime transport and public health authorities, respectively.  We expect the Interim Guidance from EU Healthy Gateways to be published this week, allowing public health authorities across Europe to support the resumption of cruise activity in a coordinated way.

Our number one priority is that the public are safe to travel on a cruise when the industry resumes operations. The prime minister confirmed recently that cruise is a great British industry and expressed confidence in our industry’s capacity for reinvention.

The cruise industry is responding to the Covid threat responsibly, collaboratively and determinedly and, with the continued support of government, we fully intend to meet the prime minister’s expectations.