Cruise giant Royal Caribbean has put forward plans for a “test voyage” which will aim to test out new measures in place to combat the spread of coronavirus onboard its ships. So far, the trail has reportedly attracted more than 100,000 volunteers eager to step onboard.
The cruise line additionally launched a Facebook group to discover how much interest there was among cruisers for the trial sailings.
The group has garnered around 50,000 members so far.
Cruise experts have “applauded” and “encouraged” the move, and believe it will be a huge help in “restoring consumer confidence” and getting cruises back to sea “as early as next year.”
“It is going to be tough to get the confidence back for people to start booking cruise holidays again although 2022 cruise bookings are already being taken and filling up which suggests people have the belief that it will take a year or so for confidence to be regained,” Rob Gower, cruise expert and owner of luxury travel firm Dragonfly Traveller told Express.co.uk.
“The Royal Caribbean trial is a great way to demonstrate their commitment to getting people back to booking cruise holidays.
“I would expect to see a great deal more publicity around this trial going forward as RC will want to get as much mileage out of doing such an event.
“Moves such as this should be applauded and encouraged.
“Taking a stepped and carefully monitored approach to managing the risks to passengers, is not just sensible, it potentially sets a benchmark for how other tour operators can help restore consumer confidence in the wider travel industry.”
The test sailing will aim to put into practise new protocols which the cruise line has come up with in line with the latest Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines to help prepare cruises for a return to sailing in March.
Protocols being trialled include testing both onboarding and during the cruise, as well as isolation protocols and tracking passenger symptoms.
It is not yet known how many volunteers will be selected or when the test cruises will run.
The destination of the trial cruises is also not yet known, though passengers are likely to enjoy the full holiday experience, including onboard activities, dining and a stop at Royal Caribbean’s private island CocoCay, according to Good Morning America.
Although there have been a number of outbreaks onboard cruise ships in the last year, the Royal Caribbean trial appears to have gained sizeable interest from desperate cruise-lovers.
“As many know from reading the CDC conditional sale order, we will be operating trial sailings with volunteer guests,” Royal Caribbeans chief operating officer Michael Bayley wrote on Facebook.
“It has been so gratifying to receive literally thousands of emails and calls offering to volunteer. To make things easier and keep everyone up to speed, we’ve set up a Volunteers of the Seas group!”
He later added: “And just like that…100,000 people have volunteered. We can’t wait to start this next phase with you all!”
The surge in volunteers did not come as a surprise to Mr Gower though.
“I am also pretty sure that there will no shortage of volunteers,” he said.
“There are some die-hard cruisers out there desperate to get back to sea.”
Mr Figgins added: “These trials will allow cruise lines to identify where the potential gaps are in their risk management processes, as well as how to overcome them in order to keep passengers and crew as safe as possible.”
Of course, trial sailings do carry some risks.
Mr Figgins continued: “Yes, there will be some risk to those taking part in the trial, but there will also be swift emergency response procedures in place should an infection be detected, including quarantine and evacuation measures and a special isolation room.”
However, Mr Grower said he was “confident” in the cruise line’s ability to keep passengers safe.
“This trial will go smoothly as Royal Caribbean cannot afford anything to go wrong and I am pretty confident that nothing to cause any bad press will be allowed to happen – they will be very careful.”
He added: “I think it is a good thing to do, maybe others will follow. Demonstrating how safe cruising can be during such uncertain times over the next 6/12 months can’t do any harm as long as it gains the positive press that I am sure Royal Caribbean will ensure it gets.”
Ultimately, the experts believe that, if everything goes ahead as planned, it could only serve to speed up the process of getting cruises back to sea.
“If this trial satisfies the requirements of the CDC, we could see cruises heading back to sea as early as next year and the procedures also being implemented on land-based holidays,” said Mr Figgins.