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How To Turn Risk Into An Opportunity (Part 4)

Published May 25, 2020 in The Cruise Examiner


(* This is the final instalment of a four-part series exploring perceptions of risk in cruising, with the aim of shining a light on beginning positive ways the cruise industry can use the Covid-19 crisis as an opportunity to “come back stronger than ever”.)


Over the last three weeks have looked at different ways risk affects how people decide whether to go on a cruise or not, and how it applies in this time of Covid-19. So where do we go from here?


While no one can predict the future and the difficulties that lie ahead in restarting operations, existing research can give insight into what might happen next and guide recommendations.

Future scenarios differ depending on whether there is a vaccine or not. A vaccine would be ideal and potentially return operations more quickly although it is uncertain when or how we will ever go back to pre-Covid-19 levels. However, the cruise industry, like many others, can’t wait for a vaccine.


Specific barriers to beginning operations right now include:

– Access to ports – CDC requirements and legal implications – Repatriation of crew – Return crew onboard once operations begin – Operational challenges for social distancing – Uncertainty around when travel bans will be lifted – Technological challenges in testing and tracing


The cruise industry has operated with the highest standards of sanitation and measures to prevent outbreaks. Comparing norovirus data onboard and ashore between 2008 and 2014, data tells us that only 0.002% of global passengers were infected onboard compared to 6% of the wider population in the USA for the same period. This tells us that the health precautions and measures taken onboard were appropriate and effective. More questions will be asked in the future and lessons must be learned from the ships that were most affected by Covid-19, but early research indicates infection rates on the Diamond Princess were the same as ashore at that time.


What will cruising look like in the future?


Regardless if there is a vaccine, there will be even more screening to board the ship. It should be noted that many cruise ships were doing temperature checks and in-depth health screening even before many countries had reacted to Covid-19. As well, it may be in the future passengers over the age of 70 may require a medical certificate or letter from a medical professional to board.


Airports are beginning use of walk-through body sanitising machines. Further development and use of blood tests to see if a person is confirmed to have the virus will likely become widespread. This can be done in the terminal prior to embarkation, similar to what some airlines and destinations are already doing but it will require a lot of resources.


What will the cost of health or travel insurance be? This may be a potential barrier for many to return to cruising.

It would be helpful to standardised medical facilities and training requirements across all cruise ships, potentially with increased staff and more beds and equipment.


More extensive use of virtual technologies is useful. Wearable tech can go beyond the original purpose to now provide even more contactless interactions and streamline further processes. However, too much virtual interaction takes away from the sense of community so many cruisers love. Similarly, while virtual cruising has been a wonderful way to showcase and promote cruise brands and itineraries, it simply cannot replace the real experience.


Social distancing is a huge barrier. Most mega-ships are designed to maximize capacity to have the most efficient number of passengers and crew in order to generate revenue and ensure a positive guest experience. This model doesn’t work if the ships can only be filled to 30% capacity. These are fundamental issues that every pub, hotel, entertainment venue and airline is grappling with right now. How do you safely keep several hundred or thousand people together when everything was designed for a pre-Covid reality?

The social amplification of risk framework provides some insight that can guide the cruise industry. The framework explains how risks are communicated, and how risks seem to increase when there is more media and public attention.

How a person perceives risk is influenced by psychological, social, cultural and institutional factors. Other factors affect how we think about a risk and this includes the volume of media coverage, how controversial the information is, where we are getting the information from and how dramatic the information is. When people are uncertain about the facts and they don’t know who to trust the risk seems to increase.

The important bit for the cruise industry is that the framework identifies there are secondary social and economic ripple effects even when a risk is decreasing. Even the though the initial risk is diminished, the ripple effects change behaviour.


Whether real or imagined, risk perceptions influence travel decisions. If the risk is too great, the purchase is abandoned. Risk is inherent in travel, and tourists accept there is a trade-off. There is always a risk something may go wrong, but the benefits outweigh the risk.


People need to feel safe on their holidays, and they don’t want to have family worry about them. Given the narrative of fear and infections on cruise ships the media has presented, the biggest barrier for passengers will be the stigma. The ripple effect potentially means a lasting image of cruise ships as connected with Covid-19.


To combat this, the cruise industry needs a stronger narrative in the media of trust and competence. More needs to be shared on the changes the industry has brought in to meet and exceed requirements to ensure safe and healthy environments for passengers and crew. CLIA and many cruise lines are doing everything they can right now to get this information out. Information reduces risk perceptions and even if the bookings are not coming in now, people will store and use this information later.


For many loyal and resilient cruisers, they are already ready to come back onboard and fully trust the cruise lines. For others who are less certain, we need to focus on an industry that will be ready to welcome vacationers back with ships that have been deep cleaned with a healthy crew and environment.


The cruise industry can also look to how other public health emergencies have been managed and draw on risk communication strategies used then. For example, during the Zika crisis, health officials developed strategies for providing accurate information on social media in direct response to the misinformation. They used the dialogue as an opportunity. Information needs to evolve during a crisis and change over time.

When they are ready to welcome visitors, it is important that local and national governments need to be involved with tourism operators, DMO’s and cruise lines to present a cooperative approach to encourage the goal of resuming operations. No one could have predicted the current situation and it is extremely challenging to predict the future. However, we can identify specific barriers, find ways to overcome them. We can draw on what has worked in previous public health emergencies, and ultimately return to a successful and thriving cruise sector again.


(* 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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