Resuming the cruise industry needs to happen quickly but should not be rushed. Many cruise operators have seen an opportunity in the UK domestic market to recover some of the losses created by the pandemic.
The UK is a prime location to operate in
Many UK-based cruise companies such as Princess Cruises and P&O have announced ‘seacation’ schedules over the past few weeks. Companies have had to act quickly to respond to competitors’ moves, with nine companies releasing schedules and tickets for these voyages. They are expected to take place from July until September, capturing the summer holiday market. Due to capacity restraints and Covid-19 regulations, any more cruise companies that wish to release a summer schedule for 2021 may have missed the boat.
It is no surprise that cruise operators have jumped at this opportunity. An island location with many coastal cities and ports results in an interesting staycation experience. If the same was to be operated across Europe for example, many different countries would be visited, increasing the inconvenience of different rules and regulations for each stop.
The UK is also a country with a specific roadmap out of lockdown. Unlike the US, where different states have varying lockdown end dates, England is all under one roadmap, with Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland differing but with similar schedules. This will reduce confusion and leave for equal access to the ‘seacation’. As domestic travel is allowed from 17 May at the earliest, it allows companies to plan recovery strategies. The UK is also advanced in its vaccine rollout, with a large percentage of older and vulnerable populations vaccinated, making domestic holidays increasingly likely this summer.
The UK is also a nation where its residents are willing to travel again. According to a GlobalData survey from 2 to 6 December 2020, 78% of respondents are not willing to reduce domestic travel in the ‘new normal’ after Covid-19. This is higher than the world average (72%), and the US (73%). The prolonged restrictions have left travellers itching to travel again. Recent news reports suggest international holidays are not guaranteed this year, so domestic holidays will be the top choice for the UK market.
There is little room for failure in this new venture
As cruise ships are known for transmitting viruses quickly and easily, there could be concerns from passengers on resuming so soon after lockdown restrictions have been lifted. A Covid-19 outbreak on a ship will be catastrophic for the operator, as well as current and potential passengers. An outbreak would incur high costs, having to provide quarantine and repatriate customers and crew, and could also result in a PR disaster. The bad press gained would decrease consumer confidence to travel on a cruise even further and company finances would take an additional hit, the opposite of what this venture should result in. These seacations provide an opportunity to showcase safety measures that have been implemented and remind passengers of what it is like to go on a cruise again, hopefully encouraging new bookings for higher-yielding international sailings later on in the year and into 2022.
To avoid these issues, cruise operators could require a vaccine for entry onto the boat. This minimises the risk of a Covid-19 outbreak. However, this requirement could limit the number of passengers who are eligible to travel. For example, by summer this year it remains to be seen who will be fully vaccinated and could rule out the potential of family vacations. These family vacations are important to the summer schedule as they attract large bookings and higher spending for cruise companies.