River cruise companies in Europe are now reassessing their ships and itineraries, and some are banning boarding by passengers who have travelled through China, Hong Kong and Macau.
In Asia, river cruise lines have already stopped or postponed some sailings until March.
See below for what the lines are now doing across Europe.
Cruise Lines International Associations (CLIA) represents over 90 per cent of ocean cruise lines internationally. Due to the latest Industry Wide Travel Regulations, as of February 7, CLIA’s measures on coronavirus apply to all ocean-going CLIA cruise line members.
River operators however are subject to the laws, regulations and dictates of local health authorities within the specific countries where they operate. CLIA’s policies may serve as a guide for river cruise lines if they do not conflict with requirements of local authorities. While Europe’s main river cruise season is yet to get underway in early April, many river cruise lines may consider taking a similar approach to CLIA’s ocean policies.
For ocean, the following CLIA rules currently apply:
- CLIA members are to deny boarding to all persons who have traveled from, visited or transited via airports in China, including Hong Kong and Macau, within 14 days before embarkation.
- CLIA members are to deny boarding to all persons who, within 14 days before embarkation, have had close contact with, or helped care for, anyone suspected or diagnosed as having coronavirus, or who is currently subject to health monitoring for possible exposure to novel coronavirus.
- CLIA members are to conduct preboarding screening necessary to effectuate these prevention measures. Enhanced screening and initial medical support are to be provided, as needed, to any persons exhibiting symptoms of suspected novel coronavirus.
The pre-screening of passengers (depending on the cruise line) may include completing a pre-boarding public health questionnaire which specifically includes questions about the coronavirus.
What does this mean for passengers who are pre-booked on river cruises outside of Asia?
For a start, European governments have been meeting in the past week to consider a US-style ban on foreign visitors who have recently been to China, in a bid to impede the spread of the deadly Coronavirus outbreak. The health ministers of France and Germany said on Tuesday that the European Union Member States may soon introduce a “harmonised approach to restricting entry for all foreign travellers, amid an outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus.”
A possible move to restrict entry for travellers who have recently been to China has indirectly been confirmed by Jens Spahn, Germany’s Federal Minister of Health in the fourth Merkel cabinet, as confirmed by Germany’s SchengenVisaInfo.com.
The Lufthansa Group has also decided to suspend its Austrian Airlines (AUA), Lufthansa and Swiss flights to/from Beijing and Shanghai until February 29 with immediate effect.
Apart from Germany and France, Austria and Hungary are the other two main European ports of entry for passengers to cruise on Europe’s main waterways.
SchengenVisaInfo.com reported that sources within the European Union confirmed the block is preparing to tighten entry conditions for Chinese nationals and those who have traveled to China in recent months, in a bid to prevent the situation getting out of control.
“Immediately after the outbreak of the Coronavirus, representatives of the Member States have been summoned by France, where by the way, have already been detected at least two cases of Coronavirus infection. The block has already decided to activate the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, but if the virus keeps spreading at the current tempo, the EU may introduce entry restrictions by the end of the week to Chinese nationals and recent visitors to mainland China,” one of the sources said according to SchengenVisaInfo.com.
“Suspension of visa issuance for the nationals of a few countries in addition to China is also an option if the situation does not improve for the better, of course,” the source confirmed, which measure the Czech Republic seemingly has already taken.
On Monday this week, Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babiš said he is considering a temporary ban on all flights from China to the Czech Republic to the government for fears of the new Coronavirus infection.
This is what each of the main river cruise lines based in Europe have released this week as their individual policies in response to the spreading virus and potential future changes to cruise itineraries.
Debra Fox, Chief Commercial Officer, APT Travel Group says: “The APT Travel Group (ATG) has been monitoring the situation closely through government travel advisories, the World Health Organisation and our suppliers, and we are committed to ensuring the health and safety of our guests and crew members globally. We have enacted heightened screening and hygiene protocols on our land arrangements and on board cruise vessels.
“APT and Travelmarvel have cancelled their tours and cruises to mainland China scheduled to operate up to and including 31 March 2020 and passengers booked have been offered choices between a full refund or alternative arrangements. Tour and cruise departures across APT and Travelmarvel to other areas in Asia and worldwide are operating normally with heightened screening and hygiene protocols pertinent to the destination, the mode of travel, and the route taken to reach the tour or cruise commencement point. Guests and agents with bookings for travel during March and April are being contacted directly.
“We will continue to monitor the situation closely as the health and safety of our customers and crew remains our paramount concern.”
Crystal Cruises is following all CLIA regulations. Booked passengers who have traveled to, from or through China, Hong Kong or Macau in the 14 days before their departures will not be allowed to sail.
Additionally, the line has updated its preboarding public health questionnaire to include questions concerning the coronavirus. Cruisers will be screened before they board for body temperatures of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) or higher and/or showing signs of respiratory issues. If anyone is determined unwell to travel, they will receive a full refund of their cruise fare, if they don’t have insurance.
Furthermore, the line has cancelled nonessential day visits to the ships when they are in port.
Given the ongoing situation and the closings of several ports in Asia, Crystal is making changes to Crystal Symphony’s itineraries in February, March and April. They are finalising the day-by-day itineraries as they are working to maintain as many of the original ports as possible. Revised itinerary details will be forthcoming within the week. Any calls into Taiwan will be replaced with Singapore. For full voyages, they are maintaining the same departure and return dates, but beginning and ending in Singapore. Embarkation and disembarkation ports for Getaway sailings are pending.
In recognition of the changes to the itinerary as well as the change in the embarkation/disembarkation port, Crystal will offer guests who sail a Future Cruise Credit (FCC) of 50% of the base cruise fare paid (up to 15 days of the voyage). The FCC can be used on any of Crystal’s experiences including Ocean, River, Yacht and Expedition for voyages commencing on or before April 2021.
Due to the fluidity of the situation, they understand that guests may want to defer their vacation to a later date. If they choose not to sail, they will receive a 100% FCC of the cruise fare paid that can be used on any of Crystal’s experiences including Ocean, River, Yacht and Expedition for voyages commencing on or before April 2021. Port charges will be refunded to their original form of payment. For this option, guests must advise Crystal prior to February 21. (Specifically, for the February 15 voyage, the notification period is by February 12.)
Guests who booked their air through Crystal and choose to sail, will need to advise Crystal’s air department as soon as possible and no later than 5 days prior to embarkation date in order to be rebooked on new flights. Crystal will communicate their new travel arrangements as soon as they are confirmed.
Guests who made independent travel arrangements will need to check with their travel advisors or directly with their airlines and hotels once they receive the revised voyage itinerary. As a reminder, guests’ flights should not route through any city in mainland China, Hong Kong, or Macau as guests who do transit through those areas will be denied boarding.
Uniworld’s China itineraries begin in April, and the line said it will continue to monitor developments.
Victoria Cruise Lines
Victoria Cruises, which operates three-, four- and seven-night itineraries on the Yangtze River, has cancelled six sailings through February 16. (The Yangtze season is typically late March to October. These were off-season winter sailings.)
“While operations have not been directly impacted by the situation in Wuhan — more than 500 miles away from the American-managed company’s Chongqing office — many passengers travel through transportation hubs which have been affected by proactive measures taken by the Chinese government, creating logistical difficulties,” the line said in a press release statement.
“Additionally, China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism issued a notification to companies in the tour sector requesting a temporary suspension of operations. As a result, Victoria Cruise Lines will cancel sailings through February 16, 2020, affecting six off-season winter departures.
“Victoria Cruise Lines will monitor the situation in the interim and continue to prioritize the safety and enjoyment of its valued guests.”
Viking River Itinerary Changes
Viking River and Viking Ocean cruise lines are continuing to monitor the situation regarding future ocean and river cruises. The line has issued the following advisory:
“We are monitoring the Wuhan coronavirus situation closely and are aware of the travel advisories issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT) in Australia and Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade (MFAT) in New Zealand, in addition to updates from public health authorities including the World Health Organisation.
“Viking has cancelled all itineraries that feature a Yangtze River sailing during the months of March – June, 2020.
“Additionally, as the safety and security of our guests and crew is always our top priority, we have implemented enhanced health screening procedures for all guests boarding our vessels within the next 90 days. All guests will be asked to complete a health care questionnaire at the time of embarkation.
“Guests who have travelled from or through mainland China, Hong Kong or Macau within 14 days of beginning their trip with Viking, will not be permitted to embark the ship.”
Viking Chinese longships in Europe itinerary changes
In 2016, Viking senior executive Jeff Dash stated that “The number of Chinese nationals travelling to Europe will be the same size or larger than the number of Americans traveling to Europe by 2020.” As a result, Viking launched two river ships that sail through European Waterways, dedicated to the Chinese market. This has been closely followed by an additional four ships from those first few cruises in 2016 making a total of six dedicated ships for Chinese passengers which were fully booked for 2019.
One Longship sails a 10-night Rhine program between Amsterdam and Basel, and another that launched in 2017, is a Longship plying the Danube, both dedicated to Chinese travellers.
On all vessels, all hotel crew are Mandarin-speakers, all signage is in Mandarin—down to the labelling of the toiletries, and the cuisine is designed by a judge of ‘Master Chef China.’ Viking hires chefs to prepare regional cuisine such as Szechuan and Cantonese, and a fusion menu by a French-trained Michelin-star chef offers such dishes as beef with spicy Szechuan sauce.
All ground programs are organised by Viking and each Longship has eight Mandarin guides assigned to groups of 25 passengers.
Viking has planned six river vessels dedicated exclusively to the Chinese market in Europe for 2020. Our Chinese guests on these specific ships are catered to by a dedicated team in our Shanghai office, which handles deployment decisions and guest communication. As the safety and security of our guests and crew is always our first priority, we are monitoring the Wuhan coronavirus situation closely. Viking does not have any sailings for Chinese guests in Europe until March 2020. Given the scale of the outbreak and latest travel restrictions, we are likely to cancel some sailings and adjust ship deployment. We are currently evaluating options for our Chinese guests, and Viking’s Shanghai Customer Relations team will communicate any necessary modifications or cancellations directly with those impacted guests during the week of February 10.
Other lines are also monitoring the situation, and Cruise Passenger will update this story with developments as they are announced.