Sailing into new beginnings

Cruising into a bright future

By: Ann Ruppenstein

After a long, treacherous and tumultuous journey during the pandemic, the cruise industry finally felt some positive waves this month as multiple cruise lines confirmed upcoming plans to resume operations.

Hear from Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, President and CEO of Celebrity Cruises; Wybcke Meier, CEO at TUI Cruises; Dan Blanchard, CEO of UnCruise Adventures; Beth Weldon, the Mayor of Juneau and Alaska’s Governor Mike Dunleavy about the unique ways they are all creating opportunities during a challenging time.

Alaska is open

Despite the ban on pleasure craft and cruise vessels in Canadian waters, Alaska’s Governor Mike Dunleavy wants to get the word out that the destination is open for business and travellers.

Although the local tourism “industry has been impacted by decisions made outside of the State of Alaska,” Dunleavy said US-flagged operators such as UnCruise Adventures, Alaskan Dream Cruises, Lindblad Expeditions and American Cruise Lines will be sailing in the state this year.

“We want to make sure the world knows that we are a safe state and we are open for business,” Dunleavy said during a recent press briefing. “We need the tourism industry and we need cruises this year.”

Meanwhile, Juneau’s Mayor Beth Weldon said Alaska’s capital city will be lifting its five-day mandatory quarantine measures for arriving visitors on May 1 and fully vaccinated travellers already don’t need to quarantine upon arrival.

“We were the first state to give vaccines to anyone 16 and older without any restrictions, we were doing so well with the vaccine rollout,” she said. “We’re just looking forward to getting visitors back this summer.”

Weldon also said two undisclosed cruise lines are currently in talks about implementing vaccinated-only passenger cruises in the destination in order to operate in the state this summer.

“The idea is if they go to the CDC and say if everybody on board is vaccinated, can we move this thing along a little quicker?” she said. “We’re trying very hard to get the CDC and, of course, Canada to budge.”

Vaccinated cruises move the industry forward

For his part, UnCruise Adventures CEO Dan Blanchard announced the company is pivoting to vaccinated cruises starting in Alaska on May 10 and a first departure from Juneau on May 16.

“By going to vaccinated cruises, we are moving to what we consider the safest possible place we can be — and by vaccinated cruises we mean for crews and guests,” he said. “With the vaccination rates that are happening and the availability of the vaccine across the nation, I believe I would be negligent to my crew if I didn’t make this decision.”

However, with fewer ships able to operate this season, Blanchard points out that travellers will be able to visit an Alaska of yesteryear and one they likely won’t be able to experience again once larger cruise lines return with much larger groups of passengers.

While 2019 saw 1.3 million cruise visitors in the state, current predictions are for somewhere around 15,000 cruisers this year — a figure which is expected to grow significantly to 1.6 million in 2022.

“2021 is going to be the year to visit. Because of the Canada ban we don’t have large ships — although we’re trying, it will be at best reduced, but likely that we won’t have any large ships at all — so the message to the public of this world is that this wild Alaska free space is going to be theirs this summer. The small towns are going to be like what they are during the winter and the spring, they’re not going to be jammed with tourists,” he said. “This is the year to go to Alaska. This is the year to go to wide open Alaska.”

Starting in May, UnCruise will have six ships operating in the state, and will be making calls in Ketchikan and Sitka.

“Even though the Canada ban has literally taken the oxygen out of the room… Alaska is alive and Alaska is ready to go,” he said. “We are a lot more than the cruise ban and we have a positive story to share.”

Celebrity sets a course for St. Maarten

One of the major positive announcements for US-based cruise lines came earlier this month as Celebrity Cruises spread the good word that it will return to cruising on June 5 in St. Maarten. 

“Returning to the Caribbean after more than a year away is such a significant moment for us,” said Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, President and CEO at Celebrity Cruises. “It marks the measured beginning of the end of what has been a uniquely challenging time for everyone.”

Celebrity Millennium will sail with a vaccinated crew for vaccinated adults and children under 18 with a negative test result within 72 hours of embarkation.

During the recent ITB Berlin conference, Lutoff-Perlo said President Biden’s announcement that vaccinations in the US should be readily available for all those who want a vaccine by the end of May, has resulted in consumer confidence to plan trips again and they’ve seen an uptick in bookings.

“With the vaccine, the rollout is going better than we could have expected,” she said. “There is a lot of optimism and there is a lot of pent up demand here in the US consumer market. People want to go on their vacation and they really want on their cruises.”

Booking wise, she said all signs point toward a solid rebound in 2021 and 2022.

“That has instilled a lot of confidence,” she said. “The vaccine changes everything and so the conversations are a lot more positive.”

Proof of concept

Meanwhile in Germany, TUI Cruises has already been operating successful sailings. After months of research and planning to make the concept come to life, the cruise line’s CEO Wybcke Meier said it started with Blue Cruises, which were cruises to nowhere, after Germany underwent three months of lockdown in the wake of the pandemic.

“We wanted to show to our passengers and our crew that a ship isn’t necessarily a place where you would contract the virus,” Meier said during an ITB session called Trends and Challenges in the Global Cruise Market. “[It took] two months to convince German ports that they would approve our concept.”

Looking ahead, Meier said sustainability will be “even more important after the crisis for all of us being in the tourism sector.”

TUI is already working to reduce food waste and eliminate single use plastic on board, but the next step is to reduce CO2 emissions and look at alternative fuels.

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