A focus on domestic cruises during the sector’s restart will be a short-term measure for larger lines as such itineraries will have “limited appeal”, according to the UK & Ireland boss of Royal Caribbean.
Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, vice-president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa Ben Bouldin said: “We’re looking at lots of options and we need to we need to comply with what the government wants us to do.
“I think all cruise lines are probably going to have to do some sort of test cruise. And we’ve talked about the requirement for these test cruises previously, whether that’s cruises to nowhere, or whether it’s cruises to another UK port. I think there’ll be some of those.”
But he added: “Domestic cruising probably looks and feels like the most likely opportunity in the short-term based on the rhetoric we’ve had. Clearly, we can all go around the UK but Royal Caribbean, for sure, is not a cruise line that wants to do that for too long.
“What we need to be able to do from here is be able to travel internationally, because we can all do domestic cruising for a while, but it’s probably got limited appeal.”
Bouldin said Anthem of the Seas was sitting outside Poole Harbour, ready to re-enter service as soon as cruising is given the green light. But he pointed out that the ship could only enter a handful of British ports, such as Liverpool or Glasgow, because of its size.
“Our choices are quite limited. So we’re keen to know when we can sail to Spain? Can we sail to Portugal? That then opens things up for us,” he said.
Bouldin said it was crucial to ensure the restart would be permanent when it began.
“Of course, it’s not that we mind taking a bit of a punt and getting something up and running, but we need to know once we’ve started – because there’s so much cost involved in restarting that cruise programme – that we can continue it credibly,” he said.
“What we don’t want is this stop-start pattern. We’ve got to have a really clear plan of how we’re going to tackle the full season and that’s what we’re working on at the moment.”
Bouldin also said a lot depended on other countries’ handling of their own Covid situations, and pointed to the line’s decision to introduce sailings from Israel on new ship Odyssey of the Seas as an example of how programmes could be adapted.
“Of course, every market in every country has got a slightly different approach. But I do think vaccinations will be positive and it will provide opportunities,” he said.
He said the Israeli Government had been extremely supportive of Royal’s plans, and that the whole operation had come together in three weeks.
“The Israeli prime minister himself put out tweets this morning about how delighted he was about the programme starting in Israel,” said Bouldin.
“Equally I would say the Greek and Cypriot governments have been hugely supportive of the programme we’ve been talking to them about.
“I know cruise is important to the UK government and I think that will bear through in time. I think it would just be nicer to have a more transparent roadmap around our return.”