When the first coronavirus lockdown began in the UK one year ago, no-one could have foreseen how much our lives would change. Now, as the vaccine is widely rolled out, people are hoping a little normality might return – including having the chance to go on holiday again.
After a year in which residents have hardly been able to travel at all, cruising is coming back, but will begin close to home, rather than in foreign waters. News that cruise holidays in British waters look set to return from 17th May is a bright spot on the horizon for many.
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Booming pre-Covid industry
Cruise holidays have always been popular, enabling people to relax in luxurious surroundings, while being gently transported to exciting destinations. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, at the end of 2019, the number of cruise passengers from the UK and Ireland totalled almost two million for the year.
Britain was second only to Germany in terms of the annual number of passengers from any one country in Europe. Britain’s busiest port for cruise travel was Southampton and the busiest month was August. The leading destination was the Mediterranean.
The industry is worth an estimated £10 billion per year to the UK economy, according to figures compiled by the Cruise Lines International Association. Sadly, cruise lines have been affected by the pandemic, not only losing money but also having to make changes to safety regulations on the ships to adhere to guidelines issued by the government.
After the cruise industry in the UK suspended its operations in March 2020, it had already lost £539 million pounds in income within 60 days of the lockdown. After 90 days, that figure rose to £888 million. The multi-billion pound industry has continued to lose money at this staggering rate throughout the pandemic.
The CLIA has described the pandemic as having a “devastating” effect on the cruise holiday industry and says it will be a long, hard road to recovery.
UK cruises to return
Maritime Minister Robert Courts has announced cruise holidays in home waters can return on 17th May, as long as cases of coronavirus continue to decline. However, the Foreign Office is still warning against travelling internationally on cruise ships. In Europe, a similar policy is being adopted, with some domestic cruises sailing, but with no indication of when Brits might be welcomed back on board.
A task force led by Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, is set to report back to the government on 12th April about the chances of overseas holidays resuming. The date of 17th May for relaunching UK cruises has been accepted in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, again depending on how quickly Covid-19 is eradicated.
Cruise lines respond
Major cruise lines have responded to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to come out of lockdown with cautious enthusiasm. Princess, P&O Cruises, Cunard, Fred Olsen and Viking are planning to start with cruises around Britain. However, they haven’t announced the itineraries yet.
In Scotland, first off the mark will be The Majestic Line, with cruises restarting on 18th May. Saga has announced its cruise ship, Spirit of Discovery, will be going on its first cruise on 27th June, with its sister ship, Spirit of Adventure, relaunching on 26th July.
Tradewind Voyages, one of the UK’s newest cruise lines, plans to launch Golden Horizon, the biggest square-rigger in the world, on cruises around Britain in July. Riviera Travel will launch its Scottish and Irish cruises in July on its vessel, Seaventure.
Most lines have already announced their intention to scrap overseas cruises until later in the year, replacing them with cruises around Britain – details yet to be announced.
Onboard safety measures
In terms of safety measures on cruises, the focus is on the health and safety of both passengers and crew members, with operators pulling out all the stops to ensure the latest guidelines are implemented.
Outside the pandemic, cruise ships must be medically equipped to look after passengers or crew in the event of illness, so they need medical facilities that meet required standards.
Cruise ships are kept clean and sanitary, which is a top priority. Crews clean and sanitise surfaces multiple times during the day to reduce the risk of transmitting bacteria. This includes door handles, handrails, taps and WC facilities.
At the end of each voyage, before the next, the cruise ship is thoroughly deep cleaned and sanitised. There are also signs in place to remind passengers to adhere to personal health and safety good practice, such as washing and sanitising their hands regularly. Hand sanitiser stations are placed in many public locations. Cruise ship crews are fully trained in health practices and procedures.
Mandatory Covid vaccines?
A survey in March 2021 revealed 85% of respondents said they would be happy to take a cruise holiday, as long as passengers and staff could prove they had received a Covid-19 inoculation.
Although the vaccine isn’t mandatory by UK law, the cruise line Saga, catering for over-50s, has already made it compulsory for passengers booking a holiday on their vessels. They must receive both doses of the vaccine at least 14 days before travelling.
Other cruise lines, such as Virgin Voyages, are reportedly introducing the requirement for staff and passengers for their upcoming cruises. CEO Tom McAlpin is quoted as saying their goal is to provide the safest possible travel experience, so this means vaccinations for everyone onboard.
There has been plenty of discussion over whether this will happen on more cruise lines. However, the stumbling block at present seems to be the fact a lot of people haven’t yet received the vaccine, so they would not be permitted to take a cruise holiday.
In the UK, most people in their 40s have not yet been vaccinated, so if they weren’t allowed to go onboard, the cruise companies would be blocking a large number of passengers. In the current economic climate, no-one can afford to turn down custom and line operators may decide the health and safety measures already implemented adequate.
Cruise liners’ safety features
Cruise liners have been excellent at developing their facilities to fulfil customer needs, such as installing automatic doors on ships. While this is mainly aimed at disability access, it has also been a bonus in terms of reducing the risks of disease transmission, as it means passengers don’t have to touch door handles that hundreds of other people might have touched on the same day.
Automatic Access Ltd installed automatic doors on cruise liner MV Britannia. We were commissioned to retrofit automatic doors to six disabled toilets and some of the restaurants on board one of P&O’s luxury cruise ships.
If you’re looking to install specialist doors, please contact us for a quote.