Agents should book cruises with confidence, thanks to Covid-19 rules that have been agreed to make ships safe – despite the second wave of infections across Europe.

That was the message from industry bosses speaking during a panel discussion with Travel Weekly editor-in-chief Lucy Huxley at the virtual Clia forum on Thursday (October 29).

David Dingle, chairman of Carnival UK, said: “[Agents] should be selling with as much – and probably more – confidence, as they would sell any other holiday.

“The moment that we can start getting guests once again cruising on our ships, we can show that you can take a cruise and be safe.

“Travel agents shouldn’t hesitate to book a cruise as much as they’re booking any other holiday for their customers. No question at all.”

He said a framework for cruise lines operating from the UK has been developed with the Department for Transport, Public Health England and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Once the travel advisory against cruising is lifted, then operations can restart.

Dingle said cruises will initially be around the British Isles as the concepts are tested, then voyages can extend to ports further afield in Europe and destinations such as the Canary Islands, which is ready to accept vessels.

“To do purely UK cruises to begin with, that’s quite a good political tool to encourage that travel advisory to be lifted,” he said.

“Because of the bubble that a cruise ship provides, and the fact that it is so highly regulated in every possible way, frankly, at the moment, it’s the safest form of travel you would have.”

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Fred Olsen Cruise Lines aims to resume next February with Balmoral and is using the framework to plan procedures for passengers and crew, as well as ports and shore excursions.

Peter Deer, managing director, said: “We make it as safe as possible and build one big bubble over the ship.

“When you visit destinations, you breach that bubble but we will only visit destinations in the safe corridor.”

He said there had been “extremely strong bookings” for 2021 cruises before the second spike of Covid-19 but demand has dropped recently as infections are rising.

Deer urged agents to highlight the flexibility of booking conditions to encourage consumers to buy cruises for 2021.

MSC Cruises re-started operations in the Mediterranean in August and has increased testing of passengers and crew as Covid-19 infections rise across Europe.

Bud Darr, maritime policy and government affairs executive vice-president, said the UK framework is consistent with his cruise line’s protocols.