The cruise sector received a shot of hope last week with the announcement from MSC Cruises that two of its cruise ships will resume operations this month.
The flagship MSC Grandiosa began sailing in the Mediterranean this past weekend, on August 16, and MSC Magnifica will begin sailing again as of August 29.
The ships will sail the Eastern and Western Mediterranean on seven-night cruises offering guests full-experience cruise holidays. The Mediterranean is where MSC Cruises got its start.
The announcement of specific dates came a week after MSC unveiled a comprehensive program of protocols for health and safety on board their cruise ships.
New protocols and passenger restrictions
The two ships will be the first to implement the protocols, which have been approved by the relevant national authorities of Italy, Malta and Greece, the countries that the ships will call on.
Pierfrancesco Vago, MSC Cruises’ Executive Chairman, says that the new measures go beyond guidelines with enhancements including universal testing for all guests and crew as well as safe ashore visits at each port.
Significantly, the cruises are not open to everyone. Only guests from the 26 Schengen* countries will be allowed to board. Moreover, itineraries have been designed according to the accessibility of the ports, reducing where possible the need for guests to use public transport or flights and have been planned in con-junction with the authorities.
New Retail protocols in place
“We have created a comprehensive set of retail protocols with assistance from DFWC, Aspen Medical, our partners and our in-house experts, and we are ready to welcome our loyal guests to shop safely with us onboard,” said Adrian Pittaway, Head of Retail at MSC Cruises.
“MSC Retailing has enhanced the guest experience on board our ships to be safe, welcoming and fully adapted to the current situation,” Pittaway explains.
“Through our restart, we will continue to focus on providing a memorable shopping experience to our guests with warm and friendly service, expert advice and the widest range of products on offer at the best prices.
“In line with the new standards in place across our ships, we have significantly adapted our own processes to ensure that we offer an enhanced level of safety. We have created best-in-class protocols from Duty Free World Council (DFWC) guidelines, retail specific advice from experts at Aspen Medical Consulting, safe product care guidelines from our brand partners, and suggestions from across our experienced retail, hotel and medical teams. From all of these inputs, we have developed a framework which we truly believe will be market-leading in the cruise retail sector.
“We will be using the new and innovative technology of our smart ships to ensure appropriate social distancing, deliver impactful digital communication and implement clear safety guidelines.
“In addition, we have re-invented our event program, stock-handling processes and service experience, as well as enhancing our crew shopping facilities and product ranges. We will also ensure that as more of our fleet returns to service, our guests will continue to receive the same high standards of service and safety on board all our ships.
“This really is the first important step in a long journey back for us, our onboard retail family and all our travel retail trade partners, we look forward to working with the rest of the cruise retail sector to help steer the learnings and develop industry-wide best practice,” he added.
Date of U.S. restart uncertain
MSC Cruises also announced the cancellation of all U.S. cruise departures up to and including the October 31 deadline now in effect. This is in line with the announcement that CLIA members will voluntarily extend the suspension of cruise operations to this date. CLIA stated that
MSC Cruises will restart operations in the U.S. only when the time is right, following approval by the CDC and other relevant authorities across the region in observance of their requirements and guidelines, confirmed the company.
* The 26 Schengen countries include: Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Greece, Spain, France, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Hungary, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia, Finland, Sweden and Switzerland.