This week saw three extraordinary examples of courageous corporate leadership from cruise companies.
First, Royal Caribbean’s Richard Fain produced a passionate, no-holds-barred video in which he spelt out why cruise ships would be back.
You can see him at work here – and watch till the end, he has a great punch line!
He says: “Like you, we’re hurting. We’ve had to cancel cruises; we’ve lost revenue and our people are putting in long days to ensure the health and safety of our guests and our crew.
“But we have absolutely sailed through rough waters like this before and we have weathered every storm side by side with you.”
Mr Fain is the man who came up with the brilliant idea of sending Spectrum of the Seas to Sydney so it could give free cruises to almost 12,000 of our bush fire first responders.
Later in the week came the head of Viking, Torstein Hagen. In what must have been a tough call, he suspended sailings on the world’s largest fleet of river ships and his new six-strong ocean liners until May. The line said it would be offering those who had booked 125% of their fares if they reserved a future journey, or a full refund if they didn’t.
Again he took to video to shoulder the blame. “This is a decision we made with a heavy heart, but with present circumstances what they are, we are unable to deliver the high-quality Viking experience for which we are known” he said.
Viking came out with the most generous refund policy a week ago – cancel in 24 hours and get your money back. Bang in line with the cruise line’s “no nickel and diming” philosophy.
Finally, Jan Swartz, president of Princess, announced the line would halt all its ships until May 10.
“Our hearts break for those who have lost their lives,” she said in a video.
She described her crews – particularly those on Diamond Princess – as “gladiators”.
But she added: “Sometimes even gladiators need to rest. This is perhaps the most difficult decision of our history.”
She promised she would reset the environmental conditions on board the ships. And she urged people to book a cruise to show their support for her 35,000 staff, and the communities around the world who depend on the industry.
You can hear her here:
As we write, cruise executives are waiting on a White House decision in America on new proposals to increase the health and support for their guests and crew.
On the table are believed to be more aggressive screening procedures, testing kits on board and repatriation at the cruise line’s expense to give passengers peace of mind. Some say even special measures for those over 70 years old.
Despite the headlines that accompanied the bungled quarantine of the Diamond Princess by the Japanese authorities, who managed to do as much to spread the virus among passengers as the disease itself, COVID-19 wasn’t created on cruise ships. And though it’s true proximity on ships isn’t conducive to stopping it, the measures put in place on cruise ships to halt its progress are as good as any at airports or hotels.
The devastating experience of the past few weeks for passengers and crew will certainly drive even more health outcomes from an industry now suffering the tall poppy syndrome: its growth means its detractors can’t wait to pull it down.
Australia has been a beneficiary of the woes overseas. Our ports are safe for now. And as a result, ships are still sailing.
Cash is flowing into the coffers of towns like Eden, which suffered badly in the bush fires and are now receiving more visitors by sea than ever before.
Cruise Passenger’s readers are keen cruisers. Overnight, we conducted a poll asking who would cruise now, and who would cruise later.
The good news is they are all keen to cruise again.
41.3% of respondents said that they would be open to cruising “at any time”
29% would be open to cruising once the pandemic is under control and vaccine available
12.9% said they will cruise, but not for 12 months
There are some extraordinary bargains on offer from cruise companies keen to get you back in their cabins and suites. Should you take them? So long as you are not identified in high risk groups, yes you should.
Book for the new season and through 2021, read the cancellation fine print and get good travel insurance. Make sure you pick a line with a good reputation (which is all of those sailing our waters).
Then relax. You’ll have a terrific time. And perhaps, by then, you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.