Royal Caribbean says it is “working hard” to ensure the current UK cruise ban is lifted as part of the reconvened travel taskforce’s plan for the resumption of international travel.
Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Ben Bouldin said the line was collaborating with Clia to ensure the exclusion is not in place after the taskforce reports on April 12.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has advised against cruise ship travel since July 9 last year and the sector has been largely shut down voluntarily since the start of the pandemic.
Asked if he was confident cruise would be included in the government’s restart pathway, Bouldin said: “I’d like to be more confident.”
But he added: “I am confident that we will start to find ourselves treated on an equal par with the rest of travel. And I think that will open up the opportunity for some cruising this summer.”
Bouldin was speaking after Royal Caribbean announced it is to base a ship in Israel for the first time this summer, taking advantage of high vaccination rates in the country.
All adult passengers and crew will have to be vaccinated prior to sailing. Children under 16 will not be vaccinated and will be able to sail as there will be full testing before boarding. Sailings are due to start on June 2.
Asked if this could be a precursor to getting more ships back in operation, Bouldin said: “The way in which Israel has seized control of the Covid pandemic and is aggressively going after the vaccination of their population has really facilitated the idea [to base a ship in Haifa] and given us the opportunity for us to cruise there, we believe very successfully, this summer.
“But it’s important to stress that cruising is not reliant on vaccination. For our programme in Singapore, there’s no vaccination. The prevalence of Covid is also very low in Singapore so, again, it creates a safe environment.”
He added: “In Israel, there has been quite high prevalence of Covid and they’ve had a hell of a job with it, but they’ve managed to get on top of it and they’ve gone very heavy on this vaccination route. They’re getting everybody vaccinated at pace and it’s making a difference. That’s the key thing.
“If you take the UK, actually it’s faring pretty well. I think we’re all quite pleasantly surprised as citizens of the UK that the vaccination programme’s going quite well. We all know people now, probably not too far away from us in age, who’ve had the vaccination.
“We’ve got peers and colleagues and friends who have been vaccinated now. So it’s a real thing and the science will tell us how effective it ends up being.”
Bouldin said: “The early signs, and particularly from the science we’re seeing in the markets where vaccinations have been swift, is that there’s a real material difference in the amount of Covid that we’re seeing in those marketplaces.
“So I’m confident that the UK can get beyond this Covid piece as the prevalence of the vaccine takes hold. Then hopefully, it facilitates a strong return to service and operations here.”
Bouldin praised the efforts of maritime minister Robert Courts and Clia, which he said gave him confidence.
“We have a maritime minister in the UK who’s been very supportive, and particularly working very closely with the Clia steering group, so I have confidence in his abilities and the work he’s doing,” he said.
“It’s a tough environment because the UK has had real challenges with this virus. And we have to recognise that we are not the only part of the economy that’s taking a hit here.
“We are still in lockdown right now and we will be right through the next couple of months. So it’s a very difficult dynamic to suddenly start promoting cruise at a time when we’re all locked down.”
He added: “I do understand the challenges. But the key thing is, it takes 12 to 16 weeks to start an industry like cruise up again. So all we really want is to have a much clearer roadmap and a signposting of how we might parallel path our return with the return of domestic tourism and hospitality in the UK.
“And that’s what I’m personally looking for a little bit more clarity on from the government.”
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