By Tony Roberts, vice president, Princess Cruises UK & Europe
The health and safety of guests, crew and the communities we visit has always been the number one priority for cruise lines. In fact, no other travel sector has anything near the level of screening protocols and stringent health measures that have been standard in the cruise industry for many years.
Nevertheless, the current global health crisis that our world is facing has meant that cruise lines have had to take the already rigorous protocols we have in place and further enhance them, without compromising on guest experience.
Because of this, in 2021, alongside the implementation of new health and safety measures, we will start to see what the future of cruise looks like, as lines take advantage of new technologies to change certain traditional aspects of a cruise holiday – once seen as the ‘norm’ – for the better.
For example, Princess is transforming embarkation day by staggering boarding and completely reinventing the traditional muster drill. By leveraging the Princess OceanMedallion technology, guests can select their preferred time to arrive at the port and, once onboard, can watch the important safety training video on their mobile device or stateroom TV, simply verifying their designated muster station with a quick and contactless check-in at their convenience anytime between boarding and sail away.
Travel agents and guests will already be well aware that when ships resume sailing, additional protocols will be in place across the entire sector. For Princess, the OceanMedallion wearable technology, which was designed to create seamless experiences for our guests, now lends itself well to travelling in a socially distanced world. We recently announced that, upon return to service in 2021, the Princess Cruises global fleet will feature the ‘MedallionClass Experience’, which means that our guests will be able to enjoy what we are calling a ‘Truly Touchless’ cruise holiday. From the aforementioned staggered boarding and transformed safety training, to contactless payments, keyless stateroom entry and the ability to order food and drink to anywhere on the ship, this innovative technology means that our guests can continue to enjoy next-level service while staying safe at sea.
Over the past year, cruise lines have worked tirelessly with global health leaders and medical experts to devise and implement best practices for when sailings resume. However, to be able to fully prepare for a return to service, the UK Foreign Office needs to remove its outdated travel advice on ocean cruising. To this end, Clia is continuing to play a key role in working with the UK government to secure this change and help inform cruise restart.
While news of the UK becoming the first country to kick off a mass vaccination programme is encouraging, the key to the safe resumption of operations is this continued collaboration between cruise lines, medical experts, national authorities and local ports.
We are now looking forward to the government removing its travel guidance and setting a timeline to safely start cruises, so agents and guests alike can feel confident that there is a path back to cruising in 2021.
Many will be relieved that 2020 is behind us. It is now time for us to focus on the future and to the day when cruise lines can get back to what they do best – providing guests with an extraordinary service and unrivalled experiences.
By Joe Ponte, UK CEO, Hotelplan
As a result of Covid-19, the entire travel industry has come to a standstill, as much, or arguably more than, any other industry in the UK. It has been devastating. We have seen previously well-run, profitable businesses go into administration simply because they have not had the backing to get them through. These are businesses full of passionate, talented people doing their best to help realise the travel dreams of their customers — it’s been really tough out there.
At Hotelplan UK, we have four specialist ski brands – Inghams, Ski Total, Esprit, and Flexiski – that are fortunate enough to have the support of Hotelplan’s Swiss owners, Migros. This makes theirs, and the rest of Hotelplan’s, long-term futures secure, but last year was still a challenging one.
The European ski sector was at the epicentre of Covid’s early impact on our industry when resorts in Austria, Italy and France quickly found themselves at the frontline. It is easy to say that some resorts were late to react, but in the face of such an unprecedented crisis, I feel that those early missteps were not entirely surprising, but still obviously regrettable.
Now, after a year like no-other, there is still so much that we don’t know, but there are signs that we should be optimistic. In the short-term ski holidays may involve limited numbers on lifts, a dialled down après scene and varied Covid-19 guidelines from one destination to the next. Nevertheless, skiers will still find their way back to the mountains – and when it’s as safe as possible, we will help them do that. Thankfully skiing is an activity that can be enjoyed outdoors at a distance from others, which is good news for many skiers who are itching to get back on the slopes. Skiing is more than just a holiday for a lot of people, it’s a passion, an obsession even – so we have every reason to feel optimistic about the ski industry bouncing back.
Where possible our industry should focus on the positives. I prefer to concentrate on the opportunities for recovery, ensuring we put our energies into this above anything else. We’re already thinking about our plans for when the vaccine will fulfil its potential and what we will deliver when, from spring onwards, we see the much-anticipated recovery in demand. Then, in the long-term, we will continue to review our proposition in line with what our customers want and what we are able to deliver in a post-Covid and post-Brexit world.
I also hope that this time of reflection and organisational introspection helps heighten the absolute need for all of us to ensure sustainability and responsible travel is at the heart of our business strategy. Not just because it is our moral obligation, but because it is becoming a customer acquisition and commercially imperative.
For businesses in the ski industry, the road to recovery is complex, but the green shoots of revival are clearly visible. At Inghams we have started to see demand slowly return, with web traffic up significantly and improvements in our booking numbers. We have suspended the season until the end of January, but we will do all we can to facilitate safe travel for skiers in the later part of the season, should conditions allow us to do so.
Our ski brands have been doing what they do for a long time. Inghams’ founder took his first group skiing over 85 years ago, and we wouldn’t still be doing what we do now if we didn’t continually move with the times, modify how we do things and change what we offer. Brexit, the impacts of Covid-19 and having the goal of being stronger when we come out of this crisis, than when we went into it, will mean we need to make some changes. Like ours, hopefully this crisis has offered many travel businesses the opportunity to rebuild and refocus, to get ready with a fresh outlook suited to the climate ahead. Travel will be back – and so will we.