Clia says Covid probe reports do not give full picture

Recent media reports of investigations into Covid-19 outbreaks onboard cruise ships may be creating a misleading impression of the current situation, according to Clia Europe’s new director general.

Marie-Caroline Laurent told a Travel Weekly Webcast that the number of cruises affected was “impactful” for the sector but clarified that the number of itineraries postponed or cancelled since the restart of operations represented 14% of overall activity and “not the majority”.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is currently monitoring or investigating all ships under its jurisdiction due to Covid cases onboard.

However, the US health body launches an investigation if just 0.1% of passengers or one crew member on a scheduled revenue sailing tests positive.

In recent weeks, lines including Marella Cruises, Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC Cruises have postponed or cancelled sailings amid the emergence of the Omicron variant.

But Laurent said the majority of changes were related to Covid-related operational challenges, and added the cruise industry offered “full transparency on the number of cases” which was not necessarily the case for other travel sectors.

Explaining that passengers were tested before and during voyages to ensure all cases were flagged as soon as possible, Laurent said: “At a global level cancellation or postponement of cruises represents 14% of the overall activity. It’s not the majority.

“Maybe media reports do not reflect the fact that’s only 14% of the overall operation (although) it’s still very impactful for our industry.”

Laurent added that it was better in some situations to postpone a cruise to ensure “protocols can be reinstated (or) reapplied” so the voyage could be reinstated at a later date.

And she said: “I would say that the majority of these cases are due to Covid-related operational constraints.”

Laurent was speaking alongside Clia UK and Ireland managing director Andy Harmer, who insisted health and safety protocols in the cruise sector “go way beyond any other travel or hospitality setting”.

Laurent, who became director general of Clia Europe in November, added: “Cruising is one of the safest ways to take a holiday at the moment. Our protocols are solid and robust.”

She added that the “vast majority” – around 80% – of cruise passengers polled in a recent survey said they wanted to cruise again.

And around 60% of people who had never cruised before said they are “still interested in taking a cruise for the first time”.

Cruise bookings also remained strong for the upcoming European summer season, Laurent said.

“We still remain confident that passengers are still willing to travel on cruises [and] we don’t see this ‘massive cancellations’ phenomenon at a global level,” she said.

“On the contrary, up to a few weeks ago, we still had good numbers for bookings from the next season.

“We remain hopeful that the coming season should be better provided the further developments on the Covid situation are much better than, for instance, than what we just had in 2021.”

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