The pandemic decimated the travel industry, but perhaps most significantly affected cruise lines, which were at the center of public attention concerning COVID-19 as it emerged in the U.S. Thousands of passengers were stranded on cruise vessels at the onset of the pandemic due to a soaring caseload among those aboard.
More than two years into the somewhat tamed but relentlessly persistent pandemic, the cruise industry appears to be making a comeback. Cruise bookings are trending up and major lines are unveiling new journeys. But are consumers really all aboard? Not quite.
On Aug.9, Norwegian, one of the world’s largest carriers, predicted a loss for this quarter and reported revenue below its optimistic estimates. The news suggests that cruise lines have some work to do before they’re back to smooth sailing. That’s not to say that some cruise lines aren’t finding success and seeing bookings boom, but that the industry still has work to do.
GOBankingRates explored several ways that carriers can earn back consumer trust — and return to some semblance of pre-pandemic normalcy.
Provide Cancellation Policies that Cover All Aspects of Package Deals
“The increased likelihood of cruises being canceled at the last minute has meant that many people are opting to cruise from local ports that are within driving distance, rather than taking long-haul fly cruises,” said Jenni Fielding, a cruise blogger at Cruise Mummy. “I have lost out on a lot of money due to having to cancel a cruise and being left with unusable flights, even though it was booked as a package deal.”
If cruises offer cancellation policies that cover not just the canceled cruise but also the missed flights, hotel stays and other related travel expenses, that would encourage more consumers to take the risk of booking a cruise trip.
“These costs would need to be absorbed by the cruise lines, but the payoff would be that more people would be willing to book exotic cruises which have higher profit margins,” Fielding said.
Communication Around COVID Cases Onboard
“Most people, even regular cruisers, do not know what the procedure is for people who get Covid while on a cruise,” Fielding said. “The fear of quarantine is still putting people off booking cruises. And for those who do sail, it may put them off seeking medical attention if they do develop symptoms on board. Communicating information about how many cases of Covid are on cruise ships, and what happens to guests who become ill would increase consumer confidence without any high costs.”
Offer Some Services Pre-Trip
“Travelers are having a hard time with missed flights and other travel headaches right now,” said Daniel Green, co-founder and CTO of Faye Travel Insurance. “Missing the departure of a cruise is devastating and providing some activities in the one to two days before departure may help everyone get onboard on time, including if they miss a connection along the way. This could include a welcome dinner near the port in which the ship is due to depart from, or putting up ship-goers in hotels nearby for the evening before.”
Have Safety and Sanitation Measures in Place
“An increase in safety and sanitation is a must if you want to regain the trust of customers on a cruise,” said Giulia Di Leo of Your Boat Holiday. “This means more sanitation stations, free masks and an emphasis on open spaces. It also means a clear and concise plan for this in which all customers are aware of what is required by the ship and from them as [passengers].”
Offer More Free Accommodations
“Free accommodations are such a helpful thing to offer to customers who might be fearful of getting on a cruise ship,” Di Leo said. “This helps to provide a better experience which could include free wifi to be able to talk to friends and family, and things like discounted rooms that are much more roomy.”
Hire More Health Staff
“More health care staff is needed for a cruise ship in order to help passengers feel safe,” Di Leo said. “You need a few health care professionals to be able to help a large number of people in case of an emergency.”
Be Clear About What’s Different Now
“Many policies have changed due to Covid,” Green said. “To avoid confusion and an overwhelming amount of questions for staff, proactively answer questions like: Do you need to reserve deckchairs? Are there capacity limits for events or the gym? Skip much of the pre-departure anxiety and tell people what to expect.”
Implement a Secure Plan for Evacuation
“Having a secure evacuation plan is key, as well as sharing this information with everyone on board,” Di Leo said. “An evacuation plan will help to ease the minds of passengers and ensure they won’t be stuck on board if anything were to happen.”
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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: How Cruise Lines Can Win Back Vacationers and Boost Bookings as COVID Declines