In the recent CSI & CSH Online conference session, ‘Improving Outbreak Protocols: Next Iterations’, cruise hospitality consultant Paul Anthony Mooney argued for a unified approach from the cruise industry in the return to cruise. A singular approach brings solidarity, reducing anxieties on board and at ports, and would result in safer cruising for everyone.

Royal Caribbean and Norwegian are currently at the head of this unified approach. Two of the biggest competitors in the cruise industry have come together to create the Healthy Sail Panel, a group of the best minds and leaders in public health and maritime operations, aiming to drive the course for the return to cruising.

The Return to Cruising

Cruise lines face a tough challenge in returning to the seas. On top of ensuring the safety of their ships and crews, operators face the extra challenge of ensuring measures are communicated effectively across the industry, and to passengers. The strength of the Healthy Sail Panel is in its transparency – Royal Caribbean say that their collective efforts will be shared with the cruise industry and other industries that may benefit from the findings.

The Healthy Sail Panel

The panel itself is “a group of the best minds and leaders in public health, biosecurity, epidemiology, hospitality, and maritime operations.” This includes the experienced chairs:

  • Governor Michael Leavitt, Co-Chair
    • Former Governor of Utah
    • Former Secretary of Health and Human Services
    • Leavitt Partners, Founder
  • Dr Scott Gottlieb, Co-Chair
    • Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute
    • Contributor at CNBC
    • Former Commissioner of the US Food & Drug Administration

And the panelists:

  • Patrik Dahlgren
    • SVP of Global Marine Operations and Fleet Optimisation for Royal Caribbean
  • Helen Gayle, M.D., M.P.H.
    • CEO of the Chicago Community Trust
    • Spent 20 years at CDC
    • Worked at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, directing programmes pertaining to global health issues
  • Julie Gerberding, M.D., M.P.H.
    • EVP/Chief Patient Officer for Merck
    • World-renowned public health expert
    • Served as the Director of the CDC from 2002-2009
  • Steven Hinrichs, M.D.
    • Professor and Chair of the Department of Pathology and Microbiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Centre
  • Robin Lindsay
    • EVP of Vessel Operations for Norwegian
  • Michael Osterholm, M.D., Ph.D.
    • Director of the Centre for Infectious Disease Research at the University of Minnesota
    • International leader on pandemic preparedness
  • Stephen Ostroff, M.D.
    • Was the FDA’s chief scientist, prior to being Acting Commissioner of the FDA from 2015-16
  • William Rutala, Ph.D, M.S., M.P.H.
  • Kate Walsh, Ph.D.

For more information on the panel and their qualifications, see Royal Caribbean’s Healthy Sail Panel page.

Independence of the Seas arriving in Southampton

Aims of the Panel

The panel submitted their findings to the CDC on 21st September. The 69-page document covered the key areas of focus that the Healthy Sail Panel believe every cruise operator should address to ensure health and safety for guests and crew, in five sections as follows:

  1. Testing, Screening, and Exposure Reduction
  2. Sanitation and Ventilation
  3. Response, Contingency Planning and Execution
  4. Destination and Excursion Planning
  5. Mitigating Risks for Crew Members

The key takeaways from the document, that would affect the cruise experience, include:

All crew should be tested prior to to leaving their home location to join the ship, quarantine for 7 days once on board, and retake a test before departure.

All guests joining a ship should be tested before boarding.

At embarkation, all guests and crew boarding should undergo a health screening.

Once-daily temperature checks for guests and crew on board.

All cruise operators should upgrade HVAC systems on their ships to, ideally, MERV 13 filters to minimise pathogen dispersal from infected guests and crew.

Increased capacity of medical staff and medical facilities on board.

Medical appointments should be arranged virtually/remotely, or if not possible in the patients’ room.

Cruise operators should employ a variety of contact tracing methodologies to ensure potential infections are identified as quickly as possible.

Certain cabins should be designated as isolation and quarantine spaces.

In the start-up phase, cruise itineraries should be as simple as possible, utilising private, cruise line-owned and operated destinations or ports, in addition to shorter length trips initially.

The full scope of the recommendations in the document are available to read here.

The last point in the table is particularly interesting – a recent article from TradeWinds noted that private islands, as opposed to ships, could make the difference in the return to cruising. This would benefit Royal Caribbean in particular, says UBS analyst Robin Farley – “other lines don’t have the amenities and attractions of [Royal Caribbean’s] CocoCay, and/or require tendering to get from ship to island rather than having a dock.” As such, Royal Caribbean’s recent $250m investment in CocoCay is likely to pay off, if the last pointer is followed by the industry.

A Safer Future

The Healthy Sail Panel is a prime example of what the industry can produce when it collaborates. A complete set of guidelines from a strong and experienced panel can provide the industry with a solid base on which to build their own lines of prevention and response, and it is these measures that are forging a way for the return to cruising.