The cruise industry has no borders
Subject to the criteria of the four tests set out in the roadmap continuing to be met, domestic cruises will be permitted from England from 17 May. On May 20 MSC Cruises’ MSC Virtuosa will be the first cruiseship to resume passenger operations round UK out of Southampton.
This follows on from the UK government’s four-step plan to lift restrictions it imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Subject to the criteria of the four tests set out in the roadmap continuing to be met, from May 17 - under step three of the roadmap - domestic cruising can resume from England with passenger numbers limited to 1,000 or 50% of the capacity of smaller vessels. Under Step 4 of the roadmap (no earlier than 21 June), restrictions on capacity will be lifted.
Rebekah Keeler, head of cruise Associated British Ports, alongside many other stakeholders in the cruise industry, has been working diligently behind the scenes to ensure the cruise industry’s voice has been heard loud and clear in the corridors of Westminster and beyond.
“This domestic restart is a significant step forward. Simultaneously in terms of international travel, the government has relaunched the Global Travel Task Force [GTT], aimed at facilitating a return to international travel, while managing the risk from imported cases and variants of concern.
“Through this process cruise and port industry stakeholders have been working alongside other sectors, such as aviation, rail and travel companies, in order to work with government to establish how we can safely restart international travel,” she says. The resulting report was published in April.
Up until recently cruise was often seen apart from the wider travel industry. In the past four decades it has grown to a point where it is now generally accepted as a major player but, in some countries, it is still fighting to be included in international travel resumption discussions.
“In today’s coronavirus circumstances, it is more vital than ever that governments understand the cruise industry’s unique features, including its high levels of health and safety which were in place prior to the pandemic, but which have been strengthened as we have learned lessons from the pandemic and introduced new protocols.”
Keeler explains how, in the UK, a group of cruise stakeholders got together to ensure key factors affecting the industry were aligned as far as possible and submitted as evidence to the GTT. “This was a very important step for us, ensuring that we had a range of feedback from across our sector considered and shared constructively with GTT, in support of international sailings.”
With cruise being a cross border industry, associations such as Cruise Europe and Cruise Britain, have been invaluable in joining forces to assist in providing information and assistance to help get the industry back on its feet.
On March 26, for example, they issued a pan-European status report on topics such as the vaccine status, quarantine rules, domestic and overseas travel, whether a country is open to foreign tourists or not, what ports are open for cruise operations/layups and whether tourist attractions are open or not.
Keeler comments: “Despite Brexit, we are all part of a European market and we will continue to support each other and align through these industry bodies. The work of Cruise Britain and Cruise Europe over the past 12 months to support the restart of cruise has been, and will continue to be, important to support industry alignment.”
Looking ahead to the UK summer season, Keeler is very excited about the startup. “I am really confident in the protocols that have been developed. There has been an enormous amount of work across the industry to ensure that we have carefully considered what the protocols should be and how they are implemented.
“UK ports have worked to develop these alongside the lines, port health authorities and government departments. The cruiselines themselves have implemented robust guidelines to support the return of passengers this summer. We are excited to welcome passengers back to Southampton this summer.”