Upchurch: Cruise lines being held to different standards

Virtuoso CEO calls for industry support of cruise lines

Virtuoso Chairman, Matthew Upchurch, has called on the travel industry to pull together as a united front and “get cruise ships sailing again”.

Matthew Upchurch, Chairman and CEO of Virtuoso

In a column shared on Insider Travel Report in the US, Upchurch urged hoteliers, tour operators and destination management companies to support the cruise sector through the current coronavirus crisis.

“People who cruise don’t just sail. They fly to and from the ship, they stay in hotels before and after, they take tours, dine at restaurants, shop in ports and visit cultural sites. This is a case where a rising tide truly floats all boats. When the cruise lines successfully sail again – and I’m confident they will – it will bolster trust in traveller safety,” Upchurch wrote.

The Chairman of the Virtuoso luxury travel network praised the massive efforts already undertaken by cruise lines in a bid to get their ships operational again from US waters. He cited the Healthy Sail Panel’s 74-point plan presented to the CDC last week that demonstrates that cruise passengers will be among the safest travellers anywhere in the world. That panel is an initiative being driven by Norwegian Cruise Line Holding and Royal Caribbean Group.

“Cruise lines are willing to fight the fight for the rest of us, working with local governments throughout the world to allow US visitors to return. Yet they are being held to a different standard with stringent oversight that’s not being applied to the same degree to any other sector in travel, even air,” Upchurch said.

He applauded the efforts of airlines who have devised their own sets of protocols for passenger health and safety requirements, such as air filtration systems, waiving changes fees and blocking middle seats, but says those strategies haven’t “revived” the travel industry, with business travel – often the market first to rebound after a crisis – remaining in limbo.

“Our efforts need to focus on the leisure traveller.”

Ketchikan, Alaska | Photo credit: Timothy Eberly on Unsplash.

“When the pandemic caused travel to halt in the spring, the focus was on flattening the curve. Since then, the conversation has evolved to waiting for a vaccine before travel fully resumes. While that’s a goal worthy of aspiring to, it has not been the case with other threats that disrupted travel in the past.

“Sadly, terrorism wasn’t eliminated before we got back on planes following 9/11. Zika wasn’t cured before we returned to the Caribbean. In no way do I want to minimise the severity of COVID-19 or a global pandemic, but the reality is that like other threats, it becomes part of the traveller’s risk profile. Our job, as travel professionals, is to help travellers make informed decisions based on all factors, including their personal risk tolerance.”

Citing a recent poll of Virtuoso members, Upchurch said 83% the greatest factor in restoring consumer confidence was “flexible cancellation and postponement policies”.

The survey also found 40% of new bookings being made are for ocean cruising, the highest of any travel category, and 37% of Virtuoso clients are ready to cruise again.

“The appetite for cruising’s return is clearly there.”

View the full column here.

Lead image: Scenic Eclipse and Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, at Cozumel, Mexico © Guy Dundas

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