“Healthy Sail Panel” Could Be What Turns Tide for Cruise Industry Post-COVID

Recently, Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd.  announced a collaboration to develop enhanced cruise health and safety standards in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. The companies have asked a large group of experts to be part of what is being called the “Healthy Sail Panel.” The panel is tasked with collaboratively developing recommendations for cruise lines to advance their public health response to COVID-19, improve safety, and achieve readiness for the safe resumption of operations.

An Open Source Solution

Though Norwegian and Royal Caribbean have specifically partnered on this initiative, they made it very clear that the panel’s work will be "open source," and could be freely adopted by any company or industry that would benefit from the group's scientific and medical insights.

Safety should not be a competitive advantage,” says Saul B. Helman, M.D., partner at global consulting firm Guidehouse where he is a practice leader in Healthcare & Life Sciences. He co-leads Guidehouse’s “Back to the Workplace” service offering. “The impact of the re-emergence of this virus on one cruise line will not be limited to that line alone and would  likely reverberate across the entire industry. [For that reason,] Creating a common framework -- a standard informed by science and collective experience --  to be implemented by multiple providers in this industry makes a lot of sense.”

Cruiselines in Crisis

This announcement comes on the heels of recent announcements by various cruise lines to continue their pause in operations. Royal Caribbean has suspended most sailings through September 15, Carnival Cruise Line through September 30, and Cunard Cruise Line through November 2020, to name a few. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control extended its No Sail Order, which affects all ships within its jurisdiction. This means no cruise ships will be able to sail and must cease operations until further notice in United States waters.

While hotels and restaurants have been facing extreme dips in revenue due to the pandemic, one might argue that cruise lines are even harder hit. Hotels have already been able to reopen in many states, and many restaurants remained open throughout the pandemic for takeout and pickup. But cruise lines have been at a complete standstill.

It hasn’t helped that “early COVID hotspots were on cruise ships and past experiences with norovirus have created a brand problem for cruise lines,” Helman notes.

Turning the Tide?

However, this safety panel could be what turns that consumer perception around.

“If done properly, the cruise line industry could provide one of the safest leisure environments in the world,” Helman adds. “They should be taking their time in really thinking through all the potential elements needed for their plans – including prior infectious disease events (such as norovirus). Essentially, perhaps think 3 parts leisure environment and 1 part hospital ship. Making sure that the industry is proactive regarding prevention, and well versed on managing a potential outbreak (COVID, norovirus or any other pathogen in the future) will demonstrate and reinforce the industry’s leadership in creating a safe place for leisure travel.”

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