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How To Turn Risk Into An Opportunity (Part 1)

Published May 4, 2020 in The Cruise Examiner

(*This is the first of a four-part series that will explore perceptions of risk in cruising. The aim is to shine a light on the positive ways the cruise industry can use the covid-19 crisis as an opportunity to “come back stronger than ever”).

The covid-19 crisis has been devastating in many ways, but no industry has been hit harder than the cruise sector. Prior to covid-19, cruising was experiencing the highest growth of any sector in the global tourism industry. Passenger numbers were increasing every year for the past 2 decades, with 2020 poised to be the best year yet. Then came covid-19.

The last few months have seen an unprecedented global “pause” in operations and millions of jobs and billions in lost revenue. The mainstream media has recently portrayed cruise ships in a vitriolic light, which is feeding a negative narrative of cruises as ‘petri-dishes’ or ‘dungeons’. Yet, those in the industry know how wrong and misinformed this is.

The cruise industry has developed extensive health protocols and plans for managing and preventing outbreaks onboard, not just now, but for many years. This sadly is not getting through to the general public or mainstream media, and they need to know the extent of what each and every cruise line has been doing, and has always done, to protect their guests, crew and shoreside staff. Information reduces risk perceptions, and this has never been more important than right now.

Information needs to be shared more widely on the specific actions that have been taken and are in place for the future. These include the in-depth health screening before embarkation that was being done prior to most countries even responding to covid-19. Temperature checks were being done prior to embarkation, and even in port for shore excursions.

Each ship has developed outbreak prevention plans and extensively detailed measures following USPH and CDC requirements. Cruise ships have some of the best medical facilities in the world, and often offer better care than might be received ashore. This should also be emphasized, noting the incredible expertise, training and experience of the medical teams onboard.

My recent study in the UK found that people who have been on a cruise place enormous trust in the cruise companies to put proactive and preventative measures into place. For most cruisers, this will not change with covid-19.

In my study, several of the people interviewed had personally experienced outbreaks or disabling incidents while on a cruise, and all of them said they always felt safe and looked after and trusted the officers and staff to do the right thing. It has been shown in many studies that trust influences the perception of risk.

Right now, the media is presenting cruise lines as untrustworthy and a professional, measured response is needed to overcome this by presenting detailed information to address the worries and concerns of potential cruisers. Right now people are worried, understandably, and emotion has a huge influence on how risk is felt.

Information needs to be shared on company websites, social media, communications with existing customers and even Q&A that speak to these concerns directly. Most cruise lines are doing some, if not all of these but more can be done to highlight the proven ability of the industry to manage health risks in the past, and this will only be enhanced and improved moving forward.

Overwhelmingly my study showed both cruisers and non-cruisers feel safe and trust the familiar home-like environment of a cruise ship.

This feeling of safety and trust need to be reinforced. Cruising has been the safest form of leisure travel according to research conducted in 2019 (G.P. Wild for CLIA, 2019), and this should be emphasized going forward.

When dealing with uncertainty (risk) in decision-making, people rely on a number of heuristic principles to reduce the complex task of assessing probabilities and predicting outcomes. Heuristics are quick mental short-cuts people use intuitively when making decisions, and we probably don’t even realize we are making quick assessments and judgments based on our previous experience and acquired information – which is why greater information now is vital for long-term recovery.

Studies conducted after the Costa Concordia showed an initial and immediate decrease in bookings but once the event became a more distant memory (after about 90 days), cruise booking levels resumed. Heuristics also highlight the significance of emotion and affect on perceived risk and its impact on decision-making, and why people need to feel safe.

Understanding risk is important as whether real or imagined, the perception of risk changes how people make decisions. While the covid-19 crisis was very unwelcome, it presents an opportunity to highlight and share what we have been doing right for many years.

The cruise industry has managed outbreaks of norovirus, legionnaires, measles, H1N1 and influenza, and overcome global tourism crisis before, including SARS and 9/11. The cruise industry has encountered many risks including fires, collisions, severe listings, and with very minor exception, has calmly and professionally managed each one, following incredible safety procedures.

The focus now needs to be on communicating the legacy of experience and professionalism that is at the core of the cruise industry.

(* These articles are based on the research conducted in the UK which explored the influence of risk on deciding whether or not to choose a cruise for a holiday, and examined risk in cruising in relation to physical, health, social, psychological, time-loss, opportunity-loss, performance and functional risks.)

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