During a Royal Caribbean media roundtable on Tuesday, executives speaking about the news that the cruise company was partnering with Norwegian Cruise Line to publish COVID-19 health protocols revealed that the impact will reach far beyond the cruise industry.
Both Royal and NCL, the forces behind the new “Healthy Sail Panel” that includes Dr. Scott Gottlieb and former Utah Governor and Sec. of Health and Human Service Mike Leavitt, will make the findings from their partnership open sourced to all travel companies.
“What is most exciting for the leaders of this group is the opportunity to provide expertise…beyond the cruise industry,” Carol Cabezas, the COO at Azamara, said on the call. According to Cabezas, the information gathered through the panel will available at no cost. “Our goal is to create an environment to mitigate risk to the greatest extent possible while the virus is a threat.”
The companies hope that the experience of determining what is right for a cruise ship, which they consider their own smaller ecosystems, will serve as an example of what land based vacation companies, and other cruise lines, can do to move the industry forward during the unprecedented time caused by COVID-19.
The effort was announced earlier in this week, highlighted by a partnership between two cruising giants—NCL and Royal Caribbean. While it may have seemed surprising that two competitors have partnered, Vicki Freed, Royal Caribbean International's senior vice president of sales, trade support and service, said that “there is no competition when it comes to health and safety.”
“We started on our own journey creating this panel and Norwegian was also on its own journey,” Freed said. After Royal heard Norwegian was on the same path, “we said we are duplicating the same effort to get to the same goal and ‘why don’t we combine the effort?’”
The initiative, which will also be observed by the Center for Disease Control, will see both NCL and Royal individually prepare a separate health and wellness strategy after the panel releases one set of recommendations.
The strategies are expected to contain a complete set of health and safety protocols, including enhanced embarkation screening, temperature screenings at pier, testing options for guest and crew, enhanced sanitation/disinfectant protocols, use of technology and use of ultraviolet light, social distancing (guest capacity reduced overall and in dining venues and public venues), staggered embarkation and check-in, and more, according to Dondra Ritzenthaler, senior vice president of sales, trade support and service for Celebrity Cruises.
“We wanted to learn from the experts and then implement the feedback they give us,” she said. “Some of the things were just common sense. We really look forward to hearing from them so we get it just right.”
The panel has currently been working together for a month and will submit a first draft of its recommendations by late August. Royal, according to Freed, will then present its recommendations to the CDC and then the brands will go back separately to come up with an implementation plan as quickly as possible.