Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings will “throw the kitchen sink” at introducing new health and safety protocols because “the cruise industry cannot afford one more case of Covid-19 on board”.

Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, president and chief executive Frank Del Rio said it was critical for guests to feel comfortable about sailing post-pandemic, but said he was confident, that if done correctly, cruise ships could become “the safest places in the world”.

He said: “Keeping our target customers and past guests engaged and confident that they’re going to be healthy and safe and have a great time on board, is going to be a constant effort for a long, long time.

“That’s where the priority is. We’re not looking at getting our ticket punched, so to speak, as an optical illusion, or doing the minimum required to get the authorities to lift the ban from cruising. I want to do whatever I have to do to be able to look my grandchildren and my 88-year-old mother in the eye and say ‘come on board; it’s safer than ever to come on a Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings vessel because we’ve done all these things’.”

Del Rio said he had engaged one of the world’s top experts in public health to lead “a blue ribbon panel of experts across multi-disciplines – from physicians who are experts in infectious diseases to those who are experts in disinfecting venues to technology experts”.

He added: “We’re going to deploy the full gamut. We’re going to throw the kitchen sink at this. This virus evolves and we’re learning a lot of things every day so we want to make sure that we have every single base covered; it’s going to be a layered approach…. if we don’t find you here, we’re going to get you here. But we are going to get you.”

He added: “We’re going to prevent outbreaks on board and we believe, if done correctly, that a ship, because it is a controlled environment, will be the safest place in the world – much safer than if you are in the general population in your own community.”

Del Rio continued: “So we are going to be doing this this layer by layer. It’s going to take some time; that’s why I don’t believe we’ll be back until early Q4, because we want to do this right. And we’re going to do this for the long term because we the industry cannot afford one more case of Covid-19 on board.”

He said there would be a much greater emphasis on screening, which would become commonplace for cruising.

“We’re hoping that our experts tell us that within the next 60 to 90 days, testing for Covid-19 will be ubiquitous, and it will be as common as going to the pharmacy and getting a pregnancy test. That’s going to be a big game-changer if we can test people as they come on board,” said Del Rio.

He said he was confident he could control any spread among crew because they would be tested regularly, but admitted that having 3,000-4,000 guests coming on board regularly would present a bigger challenge.

“There’s going to be greater emphasis than ever than ever on cleaning and disinfecting; we will have more crew on board dedicated to disinfecting and cleaning the vessels; we’ll have more medical staff on board. We will have a number of cabins, depending on the size of the vessel, maybe 20, 50 or 100 that will be isolated in the event that there ever is a need to isolate people or if we suspect that there may be something wrong,” he said.

And he added: “We will be using technologies – whether it’s ultraviolet or better systems to filter the air, and we will be practising social distancing in one way or another.”

Del Rio stressed that such measures did not need to be permanent.

“We’ve all heard that within optimistically, six months, pessimistically 12 to 15 months, that there’s going to be a vaccine. And in the middle, there’s going to be therapeutics, and we’re all going to learn how to be more socially responsible for ourselves and for the communities around us,” he said.

“So we’re going through a shock right now in the western world. This is all been about 90 days old, and we’re coping. The world hasn’t come to an end. There have unfortunately been more casualties than there needed to be, but I’m a big believer in mankind. We want to survive. We want to succeed, we want to have fun. And I’m confident that we will learn to do that in a very passionate and empathetic way.”

Del Rio said reducing capacity, as Bahamas Cruise Line recently announced, was only a short-term solution to get momentum going.

“The basic business model of the cruise industry is that every ship goes full. It’s a fixed cost business. And so to suggest that overnight, you’re going to take out 40%, 50% or 60% of the inventory and not sell it, might be a very short-term solution to get the wheels moving. But that is not sustainable.

“Whoever tries to do that will go out of business, not because of Covid-19, but because there’s just not enough revenue coming in, because there’s not enough inventory to sell. So that is not a long-term strategy. We’ve all invested billions and billions of dollars in these magnificent vessels and it requires a certain amount of revenue to support that investment. And you’re not going to be able to do that if you’re only selling half your inventory.”