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Where is the Cruise Industry's voice

Where is the Cruise Industry's voice?

Opinion piece by Philip Clapé, owner/operator of Holidays Beckon

I have been extremely disheartened by what seems to be a campaign of negativity by the media against cruising and feel that the industry is being unfairly demonised.

With lead stories containing statements such as : "This will spell the end of the line for an industry already on the nose for its social, health and environmental problems" and "many will not mourn the loss"¹, it is difficult not to feel discouraged. Even the Australian Tourism Minister is on record expressing his personal view that "reinvigorating the cruise industry will be low priority"².

Perhaps the voice of the Cruise Industry isn't loud enough to be heard over the hype of the media's sensationalism & negativity, or perhaps they are being cautious so as not to be seen as being reactionary and defensive.

In a recent COVID-19 Weekly AFTA Update by Jayson Westbury, CEO of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA), he stated that most approaches from the media are only ever for negative COVID-19 stories that are sensational, outrageous & shocking. Otherwise they're not really interested in presenting the positives.

Whilst a great number of COVID-19 cases have been directly linked to specific Cruise Ships, I don't see recognition that not all Cruise Ships were impacted & that hundreds of ships delivered thousands of  passengers & crew back home safe & well!

I'd really like to hear some good news stories. Where are the great memories of holidays past? Friends & families united for special occasions, trips of a lifetime, the Music Festivals at sea, the love, romance, and opportunity to sail on the high seas. And what of the positive economic impact that shore excursions bring to locations like Kangaroo Island (SA), Kuranda Village (QLD), Port Arthur (TAS), Busselton (WA), Eden (NSW), Puffing Billy & Healesville (VIC), & Darwin (NT).

Internationally, destinations such as Alaska have been left reeling from the loss of this summer's sailings which has included closure of lodges, motor coaches and trains to places such as McKinley, Denali & the Yukon. Anyone who has had the absolute pleasure of cruising into Glacier Bay and witnessed the sheer beauty & tranquillity, or who has visited British Columbia on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway, will appreciate the devastating effect this will have on Alaska’s economy. This year was expected to be its biggest season yet, with over 1.4 million visitors.

I was heartened recently to read about the community of Wollongong who delivered 1200 care packages to crew onboard the Ruby Princess, as a way to demonstrate a little hope and compassion³. We need more of these stories!

The response to media who recently asked QLD Tourism Minister Kate Jones “what’s the future of the cruise ship industry”4 should have been that the industry has a strong future and is an extremely valuable contributor to Australian society. Let's not forget that the cruise industry makes a total economic contribution in Australia of greater than $5 billion a year, comprising $220 million a year in port fees and charges and $1 billion a year on costs such as food and beverages, fuel, administration, fees and charges, tour operations and other operating expenses. There are also some 18,000 Australian jobs that rely on the cruise industry, including tour operators, guides, travel agencies, maritime workers and more. 

Shortly before COVID-19, Australia experienced some of the worst bushfires in our history. It should be remembered that international Cruise Lines helped support our bushfire communities. This was not only monetary through direct donations in excess of one million dollars from Carnival Corporation,  Norwegian Cruise Lines & APT, but included free cruises by Royal Caribbean for Australia’s hero bushfire fighters and P&O being among the first cruise ships back to visit regional areas to provide a much-needed financial boost from cruise travellers. These companies are very much part of Australia's community.

So where is the cruise industry’s voice?

Well believe it or not, many Cruise Line executives and industry stakeholders are speaking. One of the key issues is that the media don't appear to be that interested in listening to, or promoting, these positive viewpoints. Not only that, it appears our political leaders aren't well equipped with the Australian cruise industry facts & figures to allow them to provide appropriate responses to some of the media's questions and criticisms. 

Tom Wolber, chief executive of Crystal Cruises states: "More than 30 million people cruise every year and absolutely love it, so the cruise industry will come back from this. There will be additional Covid-19 protocols for voyages when they commence."7

Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival states: "Customers are already booking for 2021. Travel is going to return, travel and leisure, and when it does, we’ll return with it."8

Richard Fain CEO and Chairman from Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. has also recently stated: "We don't know how this will all play out. We need to take each day as it comes. The eventual outcome will be positive" and that Royal Caribbean "... will take the steps that we need to take to allow you (the travel agent community) to sell confidently and for your guests to sail securely."

Joel Katz, Managing Director of CLIA Australasia said: “The industry has been hard at work developing plans for the future. Internationally, CLIA and its cruise line members are working strategically on three fronts”, which include:

  • creating a new framework for health and safety
  • working with government affairs involving a worldwide political leaders and regulators
  • communicating with the public to show how much the industry has done.

In a statement released to the trade press today he went on to say: "A new health framework is being developed to uphold the safety of guests and prepare for future operations in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis."9

In the words of Jan Swartz, President of Princess Cruises: “This will be a difficult period for all involved but we have a shared responsibility, along with all of society, to learn from these events.”5

In response to the question of whether there will be a demand for cruising globally, and more specifically in Australia and NZ, HELLOWORLD Travel Chief Executive Officer Andrew Burnes said: “My answer is, of course there will!”6

We need to hear more about the lessons learnt and the work that is being done behind the scenes to deliver a positive outcome for the cruise industry. This message needs to demonstrate the changes & protocols that will be implemented to make cruising "safer" and to encourage people back to cruise again.  

What changes might be implemented?

Advanced screening
  • Tighter biosecurity. No longer a simple health questionnaire.
  • Temperature checks on both embarkation & disembarkation
  • Medical certificates for fitness to travel for older guests
  • Staggered boarding & disembarkation, specific check-in times with no-touch check-in kiosks.
More space
  • Capacity controls ensuring less passengers onboard, allowing greater ratio of space to each guest.
  • Certain cabins no longer sold, perhaps every 2nd cabin left unoccupied
  • Air-conditioning changes - more outside air, less recirculated
  • Restrictions on number of people allowed into venues & entertainment areas
  • Introduction of dining times or reservations
Onboard Health Plans
  • Sanitation tightened, more regular cleaning of public areas including handrails, lift buttons, etc.
  • More hand sanitiser stations / hand washing facilities
  • Self-serve buffets become food courts with food service
  • Single use / disposable items such as paper cups, personal water bottles, toiletries.
  • 24 hours between disembarkation & embarkation to allow more detailed cleaning
  • New ships with more space per pax
  • Demand for the smaller ships and river cruises will be high
  • Larger & more complex medical centres & trained personnel
Regions, homeports & destinations
  • May stay closer to home
  • Build & strengthen relationships with homeport Governments & other stakeholders
  • Less ports of call - some will close to cruising
  • Less mass tourism

We also need the media to start acting responsibly and to stop with all the sensationalist negative attacks on an industry that not only brings joy to millions of "cruisers" out there but also plays a big part in the Australian tourism economy.

Table of footnotes: 

[1] The Conversation By Freya Higgins-Desbiolles 



[4] ABC News QLD 19/04/2020 


[6] Cruise Weekly 20/04/2020 



[9] Cruise Weekly 21/04/2020

Image credit: OpenClipart-Vectors @
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