If you’re a cruise line right now, you have one question on your mind: how (and when) can we re-open? Throughout the pandemic, different companies have had to consistently re-evaluate when it would be safe to re-open. Many originally though April would be safe, which quickly turned to May. Now, most are hopeful for July, but even that isn’t certain. It seems that resuming operations while coronavirus is still active is a certain recipe for disaster and disease outbreaks. Yet no one is sure when the presence of the virus will be low enough to guarantee complete safety on ships. If companies plan to wait until a vaccine is widely available, they could be waiting far longer than they can financially sustain. So, what does a path forward look like?
At this point, it is sadly all speculation. Different cruise lines are looking into a myriad of ways to stay afloat during this time. Online cruise experiences, bank loans, lay-offs, furloughs and more are all being tried out right now as the cost of laying up ships continues to add up. These are, essentially, efforts to minimize the damage that these companies sustain.
Perhaps, instead, a focus should be placed on designing and negotiating plans that allow operations to start up sooner in a safe fashion. While this wouldn’t necessarily help cruise lines get back in business any time soon, it could help them not lag behind the rest of the world. This is tricky, though, as it could entail pretty innovative measures.
For instance, there are two common criticisms levied towards cruise ships’ ability to spread coronavirus easily: many shared surfaces and poor ventilation systems that fail to protect even those who are self-isolating in their rooms. Addressing these problems would be tough. Removing shared surfaces would require instituting new technology like doors that aren’t opened by hand, with other shared surfaces like railings being indispensable. The ventilation systems could be redesigned to match, say, a hospital’s, but it would be costly.
So, what are the most appropriate steps that could be taken? Rather than redesigning from the ground-up, cruise ships could follow the model that some businesses are setting. Many restaurants are planning on instituting policies that severely limit how many people can be inside the building at one time, as well as enforcing masks. Cruise ships could do something similar; by having far fewer people on a ship at once, the chance for the disease to spread would be minimized. The same goes for making masks mandatory.
The most powerful step that cruise lines could take is one that may or may not be possible: strict coronavirus testing. Cruise lines could consider policies that make it necessary for any prospective travelers to have been tested negative for coronavirus. There are some logistical issues with this, such as enforcing quarantines leading up the cruises, but doing this would be the closest to a guarantee of safety that cruise lines could get, especially if they also were taking temperatures as people board, and then every morning while out at sea.
Of course, this is all predicated on test availability, which looks a bit shaky at the moment. Hopefully tests will become more widely available with time, as they seem hugely helpful in the re-opening of cruise lines (and the whole world, while we’re at it). Regardless, cruise lines need to begin to try out new things if they hope to safely start up again this summer.