Cruising in a changed world

Several cruise lines that deal with corporate accounts in Asia are using this hiatus to shore up their offerings and prepare for event cruising post-pandemic.

The global cruise industry, like many tourism sectors, was growing year-on-year, with more planners discovering the ease of using cruises to elevate delegate engagement and event experience.

Unfortunately, extensive news coverage of Covid-19 infections onboard cruise ships in the early days of the outbreak has hurt the industry’s reputation.

Yet, cruise lines have continued to forge on, keeping in touch with industry colleagues, relooking their strategies, and preparing to win customers back with top-of-the-line health and safety protocols.

Staying in touch
Angie Stephen, managing director, Asia Pacific, Royal Caribbean Group (RCG), shared: “During this downtime, we are staying connected to the (business events) community and keeping them updated as and when we introduce new protocols for when sailings return. That way, they have all the necessary information on hand to prepare and educate themselves and their clients.

She added: “We are also encouraging planners to focus on the individual incentive travel segment, as that will likely bounce back before large group travel.”

Similarly for Simon Yip, vice president sales Asia at Silversea cruises, keeping incentive partners updated on the latest developments is top of his to-do list. Silversea has also been helping planners move their impacted voyages, and assisting them to mitigate losses while postponing programmes.

“We have also been working collectively with our sister brands, having conducted surveys and webinars to stay in touch during these challenging times. Strengthening our communication and partnership during these times has been never been so important,” he noted.

For Genting Cruise Lines, its president of Dream Cruises and head of international sales, Michael Goh, shared that the company has organised a number of online social events and virtual trade fairs.

Aside from maintaining an open line of communication, Goh pointed out these online events are where “travel trade partners can network and share insights on the best practices for (business events) in the post-Covid era”.

He added: “We have also recently launched a mobile app in the India market, through which travel trade partners have real-time access to fleet information to facilitate their event planning, such as cruise schedules and details on event venues on every cruise ship in our fleet.”

Health and safety paramount
Health, sanitisation and safety protocols will be front and centre when more ships start to sail the high seas again.

On that front, Stephens indicated that RCG is “prepared to meet, and exceed these expectations”.

“We have (also) used this downtime to prepare for a public that will be more focused on health and safety (see next page) than ever before,” she stated.

In addition, RCG has partnered with Norwegian Cruise Line to unveil a Healthy Sail Panel (see sidebar below) that focuses on enhanced cruise health and safety standards in response to the global pandemic.

To further raise the bar, RCG recently appointed Calvin Johnson as the company’s global head, public health, and chief medical officer. In this newly-created role, Johnson will lead the group’s global health and wellness policy, manage its public health and clinical practice, and determine the strategic plans and operations of its global healthcare organisation.

All these efforts, Stephen said, are because RCG understands that when the ships return to service, “they will be sailing in a changed world”.

Goh agreed: “Travellers have not only developed higher awareness with regards to the safety and preventive measures of cruise ships, they also have new expectations for innovative event formats that allow greater flexibility and control, as they work to navigate ongoing developments surrounding the outbreak.”

In response, Genting Cruise Lines has reviewed its health and safety protocols and devised a new set of enhanced preventive measures, which is set to become the new norm for preventive standards for the fleet.

Planning for the future
Cruise lines are looking into other aspects of their operations, working on their products that would appeal to planners and their clients in the new normal.

According to Yip, Silversea has been using the downtime to “bring innovation to our cruise offering, reviewing and enriching our itineraries around the world”.

Silversea has also released a content campaign named To the Curious, designed to entertain and inspire guests with written and video content, as well as a series of initiatives to support their trade partner community through virtual visits and Cruise with Confidence polices, which offer protected commissions for travel advisors, as well as flexibility for travellers.

As for Genting Cruise Lines, Goh revealed that the team is pursuing a technology track. “We are keen to introduce advanced technology into our products, through which we can curate hybrid experiential events that… can be enjoyed with a total peace of mind,” he said.

He notes that as the world continues to make progress in pandemic control, business events will gradually shift from virtual-based to a hybrid of online and offline events, where companies can connect colleagues internationally via webinars, while allowing locally-based participants to enjoy travel domestically.

And this format can be applied to cruising as well. “Take Explorer Dream’s new Island Hopping itineraries in Taiwan for example. It is a domestic cruise that takes travellers to scenic local destinations and caters to their need for destination travel. This concept of domestic cruising can be adapted by (corporate groups), complimented by the usage of technology to engage international participants,” Goh elaborated.

As more countries relax their travel restrictions, Goh expects a gradual expansion into “cruise travel bubbles between regions that have the pandemic under control”.

Meanwhile, Stephen opined that moving forward, “(Corporate) cruising will likely involve shorter itineraries, reduced passenger capacity, alongside the heightened health and safety protocols”.

She maintains that a cruise provides a unique platform for a business event, and hopes that this value-for-money experience will “remain an attractive option to our (business events) partners”.

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