As part of its online conference this year, Cruise Planners gathered top sales executives from leading cruise lines to provide updates on return-to-sail dates, protocols and more.
To be clear, none of the executives was able to give a definitive answer on when cruising will resume. Most companies are shut down through March 1, if not longer, and it is unknown when the Centers for Disease Control will approve health protocols and test cruises are successfully operated.
Here are some highlights from the executive panel on Dec. 8, 2020, at CP Forum, Virtually Yours, led by CEO Michelle Fee and COO Vicky Garcia.
Adolfo Perez, senior vice president of global sales and trade marketing at Carnival Cruise Line, said cruises are paused through Feb. 28. “We will start as soon as we possibly can when the time is right,” he said. “Our plan is to start phased-in approach, starting with Miami on Horizon, and then from Port Canaveral and Galveston. Right now, we’re hoping March is the date, but there’s no definitive answer. But we definitely see light at the end of the tunnel.”
Many of the initial questions centered on how professional travel advisors can help their clients feel comfortable and secure boarding a ship when cruising does resume.
Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales, trade support and service for Royal Caribbean International, said one silver lining is the development of Muster 2.0, which lets passengers view safety video on their own device or the stateroom TV and then have a touchless check-in at their muster station – no more standing in lines, shoulder to shoulder out on the deck.
Princess Cruises also is offering something similar with its MedallionClass, now being expanded fleetwide during the downturn, said John Chernesky, senior vice president-sales and trade marketing at Princess Cruises. MedallionClass also allows for contactless commerce, food and beverage delivery, keyless stateroom entry, touchless embarkation, to name a few.
Dondra Ritzenthaler, senior vice president of sales, trade support and service at Celebrity Cruises, was asked about its new inclusive fares, which are sure to attract positive attention from cruisers.
The new “Always Included” program began Nov. 17 and includes Wi-Fi, drinks and tips – extras always considered part of a luxury line.
Celebrity, traditionally a premium company, has toed the line to luxury for years now. “For years, travel advisors have said ‘your brand really is in that space between luxury and premium,’” she said.
Now, with drinks and more included, clients won’t feel nickel-and-dimed and it’s easier to sell, especially since commissions are essentially paid on those extras. “We’ve wrapped it in a bow for you,” Ritzenthaler said.
Michelle Lardizabal, senior vice president and commercial sales officer for MSC Cruises USA, said the line is offering Total CruiseFlex that allows travelers to cancel up to 48 hours in advance on bookings through Jan. 31, 2021. “Flexibility is one of the major concerns today,” she said.
Michelle Sutter, Holland America Line‘s senior director of national accounts and field sales, disclosed that the company plans to launch a select account program for Pinnacle Partners that will include benefits such as bonus commissions, expedited customer service teams and more.
Katina Athanasiou, chief sales officer at Norwegian Cruise Line, said the line has just extended the deadline by which customers can redeem future cruise credits (FCC).
“We originally felt a year on the FCCs were going to be enough time to rebook, but we understand, especially the first half of this year was crazy” so it was announced that FCCs given between Jan. 1 and June, 30, 2020, have been given an additional six months to redeem. So now the book-by deadline is June 30, 2021, for sailings throughout 2022.
Lardizabal shared insight into MSC Cruises’ successful return to operations in August in the Mediterranean. “We hosted more than 30,000 guests successfully and safely” due to protocols that went above and beyond governmental regulations and recommendations,” she said.
Those included universal testing, creating a safe bubble onboard and on shore excursions, a dedicated response plan, isolation onboard if needed.
The company did have a “small number” of positive tests but the ships followed the contingency plan, did contact tracing, isolated the person onboard, followed the disembarkation plan in partnership with local medical authorities.
“Our contingency plans have worked, with over a dozen continuous sailings in Europe,” Lardizabal said. “With restrictions now in Italy, even between towns, we have had to cancel sailings but plan to restart hopefully in mid-January.”