The first phase of reopening of the cruise industry focuses on small regional navigation, more by rivers than by oceans. But what about the big companies and their giant ships?
When these giants set sail again, with up to 8,880 passengers and crew on board, they will be at the forefront of post-pandemic technology. So it must be.
"Cruising has always been a 'high contact' business in almost every respect," says Chekitan Dev, a professor of marketing at Cornell University's School of Hotel Management. You rub shoulders with people in bars. You share the buffet, join crowds for activities and shows, pass exercise equipment and poker chips, and discover new places on shore excursions with others. The cruise is the antithesis of social distancing; it's about the group travel experience. "A 'less tactile' model will force cruise companies to reconsider almost everything they do," he says.
In addition to Norwegian, which this week announced some preliminary reopening plans - for example, the installation of medical-grade air filters (H13 HEPA) throughout the fleet, which, according to the cruise line, will eliminate 99.95% of airborne pathogens - none of the major companies have released details on post-pandemic health and safety plans. In the United States, cruise lines await new regulations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; a CDC non-navigation order remains in effect until at least July 24.
Meanwhile, cruise lines will outsource at least part of that post-pandemic "rethinking" process to industrial designers who typically tackle challenges such as putting slides on the upper decks. His proposals, which are being analyzed by cruise executives with the help of virtual reality technology, range from smart and portable devices for crowd control, to elevators that work with voice commands and even robots that are members of the crew, among others. innovations. Some are already being prototyped under strict confidentiality agreements.
"Now is the time when we can be creative and crazy," says Georg Piantino, senior architect at YSA Design Norway, a leading cruise design company with clients including Disney, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC Cruises. This is what he and other industry experts are asking for for cruises of the near future.
Smart technology everywhere
Some of the latest cruises already have integrated contactless systems. Princess Cruises, for example, offers guests a fourth-handheld device that unlocks cabin doors and pays for drinks, and the Celebrity Cruises app allows users to remotely open doors. That trend will only accelerate. Beyond the obvious need for soap dispensers and non-contact toilets, trivia games, menus, and receipts will be delivered hands-free; the elevator buttons will be replaced by motion or voice activated sensors.
Smart technology, whether integrated into portable devices or mobile applications, can also be the key to social distancing. Especially on large ships with thousands of passengers, Piantino envisions them as the fast, informal restaurant bells that alert customers when it's their turn to use the pool deck or gym. The same goes for crowd control when boarding or disembarking.
Systems that can track your location can also tell passengers which ship locations are at maximum capacity and which are crowd-free. Piantino hopes casinos will also become contactless, with slot machines that can be controlled from their phone. The main problem, he says, is making sure that people have room to pass the time while waiting to use popular amenities. "You can't make them stand [around the pool deck] and watch someone else bathe," he explains. His solution: direct passengers to activities in less populated areas. That could mean artsy tours of guest hallways or daytime nightclub lectures. By extension,
Germ-proof and quarantine-ready
Redesigning cruises for a post-pandemic world may require profound reforms.
In some representations, booths may be shrunk to accommodate an entrance foyer that serves as a waiting area for meals and medications in the event a guest is quarantined. Creating room wings that can be completely sealed, if necessary, is another possibility. Flexible interior designs with easy-to-rearrange furniture will be critical to designers, says Anne Mari Gullikstad, CEO of YSA Design.
Inside the cabins, the panels hidden behind the walls could serve to connect medical equipment, allowing any cabin to become a hospital room in the event of a viral outbreak. Antimicrobial fabrics could repel germs from surfaces like beds, curtains, sofas, and chairs.
"Now we are forcing our suppliers to create materials that look rich, to preserve the feeling of the luxury cruise we had before the pandemic," explains Piantino. The challenge is to find upholstery options that don't look sterile.
Suppliers are also launching cruise lines with wall-mounted temperature-taking thermal resolution cameras and electrostatic spray technology, which Norwegian has said it will use to clean and disinfect cabins and public areas.
Small changes in operation can also make a big difference. Cornell Professor Dev, who consults with hotel, cruise and restaurant companies, says the buffets may soon resemble "Chipotles on Steroids," where guests point to what they want as servers fill their plates behind plexiglass barriers. In seated restaurants, menus can be uploaded to mobile applications or, for greater surprise, projected directly on the table. In showrooms and theaters, Piantino visualizes dividers to separate smaller groups; Whether the singers and dancers will perform while socially estranged on stage is another matter.
Dev adds that a certain amount of cleaning, both in booths and in public areas, could be relegated to robotic vacuums and sanitizing machines, further reducing human contact.
Who will pay?
The first guests to return to the sea will undoubtedly serve as guinea pigs for the widespread changes that may occur, Dev says. "They are risk takers, so they are the perfect profile against which to try some of these ideas and solve them. for its eventual implementation ”.
Early returning passengers will also bear most of these costs, says Art Sbarsky, a former cruise line executive who worked for Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises and Crystal Cruises. "It contrasts with the idea that there will be low prices when the ships return" to get reservations, he says. "They will have to compensate [for all the new technology]." The opposite may be true, in cases with less ambitious modifications. While Sbarsky agrees that there will be massive changes in all aspects of the cruise experience, he says that it is impossible to cruise completely without contact. There is an emotional aspect to consider: no one wants to vacation in a floating hospital.
"People travel on cruises, knowing that they are going to socialize with other people," adds Sbarsky.