One of the major stories during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic involved the virus’s impact on the cruise industry. When the coronavirus struck, there were dozens of cruise ships at sea or on riverways. Inevitably, despite being on a virtual floating island with no shore contact, the virus broke out rapidly among passengers aboard a number of the vessels that were sailing.
Rather than being safe, out in open waters, many cruise ships became incubators for the virus. What we now know about social distancing, repeated sanitization and self-isolation was learned the hard way aboard ship.
The travel industry will take years to return to the level of normalcy prior to Covid-19 and it may never get there. Like so much that is still unknown about the virus, itself, travel is also highly uncertain.
The cruise industry is already taking significant steps to make both ships and passengers safe at all times.
A Sea Change Is Coming
Back in April, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the organization that promotes and lobbies for the cruise industry, announced that all its member companies would be implementing radical changes immediately. CLIA stated that “the vast majority of the 270 cruise ships within the member fleet were not affected by this virus.” Regardless, rigorous screening, enhanced sanitation and 24/7 medical care were just some of the measures undertaken, based on best-available knowledge of the virus from the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization at the time.
However, we now know that social distancing is a major factor in preventing the spread of the virus. So, going forward, cruise experts say we can expect to see the ubiquitous buffet gone for good, replaced by table service – at tables that are well spaced apart. Likewise, in order to control the numbers in a dining area, reservations will become mandatory for every food area on board, say the experts.
Of course, any area on board where large numbers gather to watch entertainment or gamble in on-ship casinos will have to be tightly controlled.
In late 2019, CLIA issued its report on the 2020 season. The report was written and released well before the pandemic’s existence and highlighted a number of areas in which the industry has succeeded in reducing the carbon footprint and impact on the environment by its ships. Those measures are likely going to shift in importance to make way for the more business-critical steps needed to ensure the health and well-being of guests onboard.
How Small Travel Companies Can Make It
The big cruise lines are expected to weather the storm financially and remain afloat, so to speak. However, smaller cruise companies that specialize in niche cruise travel, will be hard-pressed to keep going. There might be a silver lining, though; smaller ships mean fewer passengers which might alleviate the fear of being on a vessel with several thousand other people; even big cruise ships can suddenly feel small when a highly contagious virus is lurking.
The major challenge for small travel companies and specialty cruise lines will be luring back their guests and attracting new ones. Tom Harding, a V.P. of Sales at Gerent, who has more than a decade of experience providing technology solutions to cruise lines, says that cruise companies “build relationships over time based on loyalty; that’s a key consideration. So, they’re very keen to find as many creative options to maintain the nurturing and loyalty connections with guests.” CLIA supports this statement; the organization claims that 82% of those who book a cruise are likely to do so, again.
Harding, along with Ketta Riley, a former senior executive with Norwegian Cruise Lines, and Gerent’s team of skilled software architects and engineers, created DeepQuest in 2019, a highly affordable, Salesforce-based technology solution aimed at small and medium sized companies in the travel industry. DeepQuest provides a CRM-based system that is a one-stop shop for reservations, quotes, revenue, pricing, and inventory management and is perfectly aligned not just for cruise lines but transportation companies and small, boutique-style hotels, as well.
DeepQuest has the ability to customize shore excursions, something Tom Harding says will be critical for cruise lines in the future. “ I cruise a lot with my family and I can tell you I wouldn’t want to take a shore excursion in Alaska, for example, where I’m sitting on a train all day with hundreds of other people closely packed in around me,” he explained.
There is going to be a complete re-thinking of such shore-based trips, not simply trips embarking from cruise ships but also other forms of scenic rail and bus travel throughout North America and Europe.
Having the means to literally re-create such trips, using a technology like DeepQuest that is affordable and scalable, will give the small travel operators a fighting chance at survival in a post-pandemic future.
It Will Look Different – But How Different?
No one can predict with a high level of certainty what ‘normal’ will look like in the travel industry. Some aviation industry experts, for example, maintain that the era of discount flights (and discount airlines) is over. Such airlines like RyanAir in the UK, and Swoop and Flair in Canada, to name a few, can offer cheap fares by ensuring their planes are 85-90% full. But it’s not likely that air travelers will be lining up to fly for some time to come, despite the recent uptick in airline travel as countries begin to lift mobility restrictions.
Any advantage travel companies can take to stay alive is worth taking. Technology solutions like DeepQuest, offer, perhaps, the best opportunities, both in the short-term and long-term, because such tools come with automation, data analytics and artificial intelligence. These features, in turn, allow travel companies to spot marketing opportunities, provide top-level reservation services for customers and more, in a highly cost-efficient manner.
If your company is a travel operator, contact us to learn more about how DeepQuest can help your business survive through the pandemic.