Consumers are increasingly feeling that if they get sick on a cruise ship, the ship’s facilities will not be able to care for them.
In an online survey from travel insurance provider Allianz Global Assistance, 55.5 percent of respondents said they feel cruise ships are not equipped to handle serious medical emergencies. This is up significantly from the 2017 wave season, when 40.8 percent of respondents said they felt cruise ships weren’t equipped enough to allay their concerns.
“While cruising has become an increasingly popular vacation choice among Americans, consumers are wary of cruise lines’ ability to care for them during a medical emergency,” said Daniel Durazo, director of communications for Allianz Global Assistance USA.
“Our wave season survey shows that cruisers have become more sophisticated and understand that most ships will disembark seriously ill or injured passengers in the closest port, regardless of whether the closest medical facilities can provide an appropriate level of care. Smart cruisers are covering themselves with travel insurance in the event that they must be medically evacuated to a facility that is properly equipped to treat them.”
Air evacuation is costly and complicated
When asked for their estimate of the cost of an air ambulance evacuation to the U.S. from Mexico or the Caribbean, a quarter of respondents (25.7 percent) drastically underestimated the cost at $0 to $10,000. Another quarter of respondents correctly estimated cost as coming in between $10,001 and $20,000.
In fact, 38 percent of consumers surveyed thought that travel insurance is more important when booking a cruise than it is for other types of travel, while 47.2 percent think the importance is equal.
According to Allianz Global Assistance Director of Assistance Kim Seay, RN, “Cruise ship disembarkment for medical reasons presents real challenges for travelers that travel agents should be aware of. Passengers are often disembarked in remote locations where local medical facilities are not equipped to deal with life-threatening illnesses and injuries.
“Sometimes travel agents believe that an air ambulance evacuation can be arranged quickly but many factors can come into play on how quickly a patient can be moved. We have to answer a lot of questions first, such as does the area have a landing strip? Do they have lights to land a plane? Is a permit required? Where is the plane launching from? As you can see, there are so many considerations that go on behind the scenes, especially when dealing with remote locations. In some areas of the Caribbean, we frequently experience delays related to an air ambulance’s ability to land and take off.”
Travel agents can leverage travel insurance providers’ experience in emergency evacuations to assuage clients about any fears they may have and demonstrate how quickly care can be coordinated.
Other insights into consumer cruising behaviors
Even though consumers have concerns, that is not deterring them from disembarking in port. The survey found that more than two-thirds of respondents (68.2 percent) would prefer to spend all or most of their time exploring their destination instead of staying aboard the cruise ship, a slight increase from last year (65.6 percent). However, safety concerns with the destination were still the top reason (35.7 percent) cruisers would be hesitant to disembark.
Other reasons to avoid land excursions include: disinterest in the destination (18.4 percent), fear of not getting back on the ship in time (14.1 percent), previously having visited the destination (11.4 percent), taking advantage of the all-inclusive food and drinks on board (9.7 percent), not having pre-booked an off-board activity (7 percent), and lack of Internet/mobile connectivity (3.7 percent).
Allianz also asked about consumer interest in theme cruises, finding that only 16.4 percent of respondents were more interested in a cruise centered around something like food, music or pop culture.
Additionally, 74.2 percent of those surveyed expressed interest in river cruises over ocean cruises, thanks to more scenic routes (21.5 percent), lack of waves (13.5 percent), easier disembarking (13.4 percent), smaller ship sizes (12.2 percent), shore excursions being included in the price (9.8 percent), and socializing opportunities (3.8 percent).
Only 25.8 percent shared that, despite the unique attributes of a river cruise, they would still prefer ocean cruising.
Finally, most travelers prefer to arrive at their departure city the day before (40.2 percent), while 15.2 percent would arrive two days before, 7.4 percent would arrive three days before, and 16.4 percent would arrive four or more days before.
The survey was conducted from Feb. 23-25, 2018, and received 1,554 responses.