Cruise boss backs testing to save industry from 'impossible situation'

Testing could be used to "deleverage the risk from travel and cruise significantly” says the managing director for Fred Olsen Cruise Lines
Testing could be used to "deleverage the risk from travel and cruise significantly” says the managing director for Fred Olsen Cruise Lines Credit: STEFANO GUIDI

The “start-stop” approach to quarantine and travel restrictions is “completely unacceptable” and testing should be introduced, says the managing director of Fred Olsen Cruise Lines.

After voluntarily pausing all cruising in March as the world was grappling with the spread of coronavirus, the UK-based operator has now been forced to cancel all sailings until at least March 2021, hindered by the UK’s quarantine policy leading to a sputtering recovery of travel and government advice against all sea-going cruise travel.

Peter Deer, who has been in his role for just over a year, told The Telegraph that the “start-stop process” of travel corridors has put Fred Olsen in an “impossible situation”.

“Having a situation which is so fluid, where one moment you can actually go to a destination and the next you can’t is completely unacceptable on a number of levels. A company can’t operate like that, and a travel business can’t due to the nature of what we’re doing.

“Also I don’t believe the consumer can, and eventually any trust or confidence the consumer has in actually going on holiday is going to get thinner and thinner to the point where it will be ‘I’m not going to travel at all’. There has to be a uniform way where travel can operate within a set of rules that everyone understands.”

Balmoral, which hasn't welcomed passengers since March – and is unlikely to sail them until 2021 Credit: FRED OLSEN CRUISE LINES

It’s not just the costs the last-minute quarantine changes can lead to, added Deer, but also the “emotional side of it, and the worry about going on holiday, or worrying when you’re there about how you will get home.”

Without knowing when a Covid-19 vaccine will be available, the cruise boss highlights testing as something that can be used in the short-term.

“No one can predict the future of coronavirus – whether it will die or whether it will be with us for longevity – but what we have to do is be dynamic. We have to find ways of accommodating it within our lives.”

“I think there is an opportunity to use testing to deleverage the risk from travel and cruise significantly.”

What is needed is a “fast test”, he said, with “antigen tests as one way forward”.

“When you step onboard into a clean environment – as we’ve done the same [testing] with our crew – you should be at low-risk of being in a ‘Covid zone’ in any way whatsoever. That is what we need to get to.”

Peter Deer believes the travel industry has to "be dynamic" when dealing with challenges from coronavirus

Frequent testing on board will be crucial to the resumption of cruising, he added, but that testing is “a way of giving confidence to ourselves and the consumer, [showing] that they can go on holiday again and go cruising. 

Deer previously told Telegraph Travel that “together with airports, UK cruise terminals should be fitted with the facilities to fast test at embarkation and disembarkation.

“This will be one very positive step that gives customers confidence to cruise.”

Andy Harmer, director of the Cruise Line International Association (Clia) industry body, said last week that the industry is working with government, ports and health authorities to develop enhanced "door to door" protocols "which cover passengers from the time of booking to their return home".

The Telegraph understands that further details on Clia’s ‘roadmap’ to the safe resumption in the UK and Ireland are likely to be announced next week, and discussions with authorities are ongoing.

River cruises have been successfully sailing across Europe since June, and they are exempt from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) advice for British nationals. A number of cruises have also taken place off the coast of Scotland.

Britons looking for winter sun will be able to book a Caribbean cruise from Barbados with SeaDream, a luxury operator. Despite the FCDO guidelines, travel insurance can still be purchased from cruises.

Italy has seen the strongest resurgence of ocean-going cruises, with both MSC Cruises and Costa Cruises welcoming passengers (although Britons aren’t able to join until later this month).

Anti-Covid measures include swab tests before embarkation, with anyone who tests positive for the virus, or shows symptoms, denied boarding. Passengers will only be allowed ashore via guided excursions, with independent exploration of ports prohibited.