Paris | Contaminations and deaths on board, liners wandering from port to port: despite the pandemic which has weighed down its image and suspended all activity, the cruise sector considers itself affected but not sunk and wants to win back its customers with new health standards.
For the year 2020, the sector expected 32 million passengers worldwide.
A target made obsolete by the Covid-19 epidemic which leaves on the side an industry generating more than 1.1 million direct and indirect jobs, including among others the shipbuilding.
After a health crisis of such magnitude, “no activity in tourism can resume identically, cruising is no exception,” summarizes AFP Erminio Eschena, president of Clia France, the association bringing together the main shipowners.
Especially since the very image of the cruise was devastated: “there was in particular this + vessel of anguish + that was the Diamond Princess, a kind of plague boat version 21e century, “said Paul Tourret, director of the Higher Institute for Maritime Economics (Isemar).
With nearly 4,000 people on board, the Diamond Princess remained in quarantine throughout February off Japan, the number of coronavirus cases peaking at 700 for a dozen confirmed deaths. Images of other “contaminated” ships – Zaandam, Coral Princess, Costa Magica – have also been seen around the world.
“The media in general have been targeting the cruise very emphatically at times. It was done with a little too much dedication, there was a need at one point to illustrate the coronavirus, cruises were used for that “, judge Erminio Eschena.
Now the main challenge for the companies – at a standstill at least until early August – is to rekindle the will to board.
“It takes a lot of work to transmit a feeling of security, by developing innovations in terms of products and services: demand for cruises will depend on what is put in place,” said Giuliano Noci, professor of strategy at the school of Polytechnic trade in Milan.
Just a “bad patch”?
A health protocol is being developed for the sector, and will be completed by the end of June.
“All options are being studied to take social distancing into account: consider an occupancy rate that would not be 100% on board or in the shuttles, an overhaul of access and traffic flows, stop buffets to offer only catering at the table, ”explains Clia.
“Attention is also focused on boarding controls, the evolution of the entertainment offer, digital technologies. For excursions, we work on circuits with a limited number of participants per bus, themselves smaller, ”adds Costa Croisères, the number one brand in the world in the Carnival sector.
“This situation could favor technological innovation”, like the reality of replacing excursions, notes Noci.
But recovery also depends on other sectors: without air traffic, it is impossible to transport customers to the place of departure of their journey; with closed borders or quarantines, no land calls. Some countries have also banned cruises for a long time, such as the Seychelles until 2021.
“We will take a progressive approach depending on the situation in each country. A first phase may possibly favor national routes, before enlargement to neighboring countries, ”says Costa.
China – the second market after North America – should be the first to set off on a cruise: “The Chinese are constantly traced, which significantly reduces the likelihood of contamination,” said Giuliano Noci.
“We have new reservations for this fall and next winter. Vacationers know how to share things ”, judges Erminio Eschena.
It remains to be seen whether the shipowners will hold out: the giant Carnival, which had raised more than $ 6 billion in April, has just been ousted from the flagship index of the London Stock Exchange, after losing two-thirds of its value since the beginning of the year.
But for Paul Tourret, optimism remains: “The big companies expect a difficult year, but consider that it is just a bad patch”.