This month the cruise industry is witnessing what is referred to as our ‘new normal’. Although this may be temporary, it is a new way for cruise lines to start operating again. MSC Grandiosa successfully returned to service on August 16th, 2020 after a voluntary suspension of service. The ship left Genoa for a 7-day sailing with all Italian guests and stopped at 3 Italian ports and Valletta, Malta.  Grandiosa is the first major cruise ship to sail in the Mediterranean in almost 5 months, and we all anticipate that this will be the restart for the cruise industry. Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) estimates that the cruise industry generates approximately $150 billion to the global economy, and the world could surely use this boost right now.

MSC Grandiosa has charted a new course for other cruise lines to follow. Their first sailing was successful and gives us all hope. Gianni Onorato, chief executive officer at MSC Cruises was pleased with their first post-COVID sailing; “It is a real pleasure for me to sail on board the first of our ships to return to service, and to be able to welcome back our guests.” Having sailed himself, he is promoting confidence in his customers. Things may be a bit different with the cruise line’s protocols, but with Italian cruisers, it seemed to work, albeit with a few hiccups. The new health and safety protocols were followed strictly by the cruise line; temperature checks, pre-screening prior to boarding, testing, and staying within the ship’s bubble when in port, which means only going ashore with an MSC organized shore excursion. MSC’s new zero-tolerance policy resulted in denial of boarding to a guest who tested positive at embarkation. Their party was also denied boarding since they all shared the same transportation and were in close proximity of each other. Another group was denied boarding in Naples after leaving an organized tour. “These organised shore excursions allow MSC Cruises to uphold the same high standard of health and safety as on board, for instance ensuring that transfers are properly sanitized and that there is adequate space for social distancing,” the line said in a statement. “Tour guides and drivers also undergo health screening and wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).” These measures are all taken with the best interest of guests, crew members, shore excursion staff, and local residents. Communities will welcome ships back for the sake of their economies but also want to be sure they are safe.  MSC has implemented protocols that are a happy medium for both cruisers and local communities alike.

After visiting Valletta, a port outside of Italy, all guests who went ashore in Malta took the mandatory testing required by the Italian authorities prior to re-entering Italy, and all tested negative. These precautions are all being taken for the greater good, and how cruise lines handle prevention is as critical as how they handle cases or suspected positive cases onboard.

MSC’s successful protocols and strict adherence to them is a positive and encouraging sign for the industry. Having new protocols and enforcing them, even though some guests may be unhappy, is the only way to get cruise ships sailing again. As Mr. Onorato said, “Usually we believe the customer is always right, but this has changed due to the coronavirus.”

This post was written by cruise industry expert, Shannon Mckee, founder of Access Cruise Inc. Access Cruise Inc is a Miami based cruise marketing and sales consulting group, specializing in product and business development within the cruise industry.