Cruise ships have been linked to hundreds of cases of coronavirus across the country, but some Australians are keen to get back on board as soon as possible.
- Temperature checks and fewer passengers could be part of the changes
- Some companies are offering tickets on cruises for September
- Tourism Minister says there are no guarantees when cruising will be allowed to resume
However, a holiday on the high seas will look drastically different when ships are allowed to again set sail.
The industry is working on new health protocols that could include temperature testing and a reduction in the number of passengers allowed onboard.
Cruise Lines International Association represents the major cruise companies and its Australasia managing director, Joel Katz, said the industry was figuring out how to operate in a world with no COVID-19 vaccine.
Changes to every aspect of cruising are currently being considered in an attempt to convince governments it could start up again in a way that would not lead to hundreds of infections.
Mr Katz conceded there was no quick fix and all options were on the table.
“[That includes] the health questionaries that [passengers] will be required to fill in, the screening, testing, every aspect of the onboard operation including the onboard medical capabilities all the way through to when the guest gets home,” he said.
Changes to how guests interact are also being examined and could include reducing the number of passengers allowed in theatres and offering more meal sitting times so tables and chairs can be better spaced.
Cruising this year? Depends who you ask
The industry was shut down as coronavirus spread across the world, with high levels of infections connected to ships that docked on the east and west coast of Australia.
Just months later, some operators are planning on setting sail in September and are offering special deals to lure customers.
But Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth has made it clear Australians should not be booking such a holiday yet.
“There will be an opportunity and time to consider whether cruise ships are the right place to go, but I would suggest it is too early at this point in time,” he said.
That medical advice is not deterring Australians, though, with many booking tickets for travel in coming months.
Kathy Pavlidis manages Travel Associates in Kew, Victoria, and said customers loyal to particular cruise lines were already planning international trips.
Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham urged Australians not to book holidays that are currently banned.
“There are no guarantees about when any of the activities will restart,” he told the ABC.
“Certainly no guarantees about international travel and definitely no guarantees about international cruise shipping.”
Tourism during uncertain times
Cruises are just one part of Australia’s tourism industry, which is in the process of developing new rules for operators to follow while COVID-19 remains a threat.
Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive officer Margy Osmond said it was about providing clarity during uncertain times.
“Everything from what social distancing looks like on a tour bus, what are the sort of provisions you need to put in place in a theatre or art gallery, potentially what it looks like when people go camping again,” she said.
“Over the next few weeks you will see some more standard views from across the industry about what’s thought to be the baseline.
Ms Osmond said COVID-19 provided an opportunity for tourist operators to think outside the box and suggested the cruise industry could offer more trips within Australian waters if health authorities approved the move.
“Once the state borders open it’s not impossible that we will start seeing cruise options around Australia in the last quarter of this year,” she said.
Mr Katz said cruise operators will consider putting on more local trips while international travel remains banned for Australians.
“I would expect we will see more domestic or possible regional itinerary options in that initial start up phase,” he said.
But do not expect the Tourism Minister to get behind the idea.
Senator Birmingham said he would rather people stay onshore.
“The most important focus of our tourism recovery will be on attracting visitors to stay in our towns, supporting Australian businesses to get back on their feet,” he said.
“I will be urging them [Australians] to firstly get in their cars and drive across regional Australia wherever they can and when we get to point state borders are opened, to hopefully get on planes and head to some of the other great destinations around the country.”