Cruise lines will likely limit excursion participation after restart, notes panel

Cruise lines are expected to greatly restrict the interactions of their guests with destination tour operators when they begin sailing again, Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’ Healthy Sail Panel contended in its report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), explaining that cruise lines will likely limit their guests to participate in only cruise line-sponsored or verified excursions, in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Tourism Development Corporation (TDC) Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer Janet Johnson told Guardian Business recently that the body is creating stakeholder groups designed to boost and protect those who depend on the industry for their livelihoods. 

Johnson said a cruise committee, one year in the making, will be formalized before cruise lines begin returning to The Bahamas. She explained that the committee will act as a watchdog for the cruise sector, while providing advocacy for tour operators that depend on the cruise industry in particular for their business.

The cruise lines’ Healthy Sail Panel report recommends that cruise guests should not leave the ship unless they are taking part in an excursion it has ratified.

“During the initial return to sailing, cruise operators should only allow guests debarking from a ship at a destination port to participate in cruise line-sponsored or verified excursions, as a way of limiting potential exposures in the destinations they visit,” the report states.

“Given that cruise operators will not be able to fully control the SARS-CoV-2 mitigation efforts (e.g., sanitation, social distancing) of every venue at the destinations of interest, the panel recommends that in the startup phase, guests should only be permitted to disembark at ports if they are taking cruise line-sponsored excursions, where such efforts would be subject to vendor management considerations.

“Cruise operators should consider employing strategies that would make these cruise line-sponsored excursions more appealing to guests (e.g., potentially reconsidering the cost of curated experiences, offering a wider variety of excursions to private beach locations) than self-exploration or other externally sponsored excursions. As noted above, guests should be well-informed about this new requirement at the time of booking and again prior to sailing.”

The panel has also recommended that cruise lines regularly vet the excursion companies they choose to work with, to ensure that they are adhering to the protocols to prevent COVID-19 transmission.

“Cruise operators have a thorough process by which they vet vendors for onshore excursions and activities and ensure that these vendors comply with the cruise operator’s protocols and regulations,” the report states.

“To adapt to the current environment with SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19), cruise operators will need to incorporate additional protocols and regulations into their vendor management processes.

“While the panel recognizes that cruise operators should maintain their own individual approaches to vendor management given the wide variability of vendors, the panel also recommends that cruise operators’ additional protocols should, at a minimum, address physical distancing, crowding, PPE, sanitation, personnel screening, and training.”

The panel has also recommended that cruise lines limit the kind of indoor excursions that guests can participate in and ensure that COVID-19 protocols can be followed and are followed at those venues.

“If cruise operators can ensure that onshore locations have comparable safety and public health measures to those being taken on board the ship, cruise operators can consider permitting indoor excursions,” the report states.

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