Panel Experts Discuss Effects of COVID-19 on Cruise Operations

Excerpt: “On a positive note,” said Burrows, “the month of June was the highest booking month we’ve had in the 18-year history of our company.” … some of that is moving guests from suspended sailings to 2021 and 2022, but the river cruise industry has been very resilient … — Jon Burrows (VP-Operations at AmaWaterways)


On July 10, Seatrade Cruise Talks hosted a webinar on “How COVID-19 Will Affect the Future of Food & Beverage, and Hotel Operations.” Moderated by RWS Entertainment Group’s Ryan Stana, it featured industry experts Alia Abou-Assali (The Apollo Group) and Jon Burrows (VP-Operations at AmaWaterways), talking about “the challenges the travel and cruise industries are facing in this new world, and insights into how they can adapt to overcome them.”

AmaWaterways just resumed river cruising in Germany with one ship, and historically, most of their guests travel from North America. With the current travel restrictions, Burrows talked about how they have had to adjust their menus for German clientele. While they normally average 140 passengers on a sailing, capacity regulations dictate no more than 100 plus the crew.

Allowing for social distancing, their main restaurant can only accommodate 60, so “something we’ve never done before, something you don’t normally on river cruising — we had to do a very limited in-cabin dining menu,” said Burrows. Since wine and beer come with the meals, that posed another challenge for serving guests with only 38 staffers.

They also eliminated the buffets, with every meal served a la carte. Burrows said breakfasts were the most difficult to manage since guests were coming at different times. Their solution was “packaged menu items,” such as “health and fitness,” “continental” or “North American.” He noted bar service is not allowed, and like the meals, everyone has to be served, a difficult adjustment with limited staff.

But after one cruise, Burrows said the feedback on the changes has been positive, and things have gone “incredibly well.”

Like other cruise lines, AmaWaterways had planned to change from using plastic bottles to glass to be more environment-friendly, but Burrows said that was put on hold given COVID-19 doesn’t like plastic and the less weight is more staff-friendly. Ms. Abou-Assali agreed, saying there will be more use of plastic in food areas.

Both experts said the reduced number of cruise ships in operation, and the reduced capacity for those ships create a fluid situation in terms of provisional needs, which will likely stretch into 2021, which means being cautious about long-term commitments. “On a positive note,” said Burrows, “the month of June was the highest booking month we’ve had in the 18-year history of our company.” He noted some of that is moving guests from suspended sailings to 2021 and 2022, but he said the river cruise industry has been very resilient.

Burrows was asked how they plan to convince their customers that cruising provides a healthy and safe environment, which is the top of mind issue across the industry.

“Our communications chain is through the travel agent – travel advisor community,” he said. “We are using the guidelines from the CDC, WHO and EU.” He talked about the planning around what to do should there be a case, as well as getting guests from airplanes to ships and back off again.

There have also made visual changes, such as installing plexiglas screens dividing the seating in the lounge so guests don’t have to wear a mask. But anytime guests move from their cabin to public areas of the ship they are required to wear one. Upon arrival to the ship, each guest has a temperature check, and every day at breakfast it is re-checked.

Regarding housekeeping, every single cabin has its own set of cleaning equipment and “we do a full cleanings twice daily,” said Burrows. When taking food deliveries, ship personnel change into their “delivery clothes” to accept those. Additionally, handrails and table surfaces undergo “continuous cleaning” all day. Burrows also said public bathrooms on the ship are closed and guest must return to their own cabins to use the bathroom.

Ms. Albou-Assali said all the cleaning procedures the ships are employing will inspire confidence in the guests. “Every cruise line is doing their best to make it as safe as possible,” she said.

Burrows also emphasized the times of the cleaning have changed. Instead of cleaning at off-hours, they are performing tasks during the day so customers can see the efforts they are going to for their safety. He also pointed out river vessels don’t have re-circulating AC like the large ocean ships — each cabin has its own individual AC units that draws in fresh air from the outside.

As you might expect, the COVID-19 pandemic has also affected staffing. “Our Hungarian crew had a very difficult time getting here because Hungary is on lockdown, as well as crew from Romania,” said Burrows. Crew are also required to wear face coverings and in some cases, gloves. Crew members are quarantined before boarding and have their temperatures checked twice daily.

One of the big adjustments is with the wait staff, who are on the front line when interacting with guests. With the face coverings, Burrows said you can’t see be that big smile and it’s been hard for those workers because they are so used to interacting and chatting with guests.

Sad to think that’s another casualty of COVID-19 for cruisers.

You can watch the webinar by going to this link:

Cover photo: Cape Horn, South America, Photo by ©Dennis Cox/WorldViews






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