“Europe shows the way“. After Ponant, here is MSC Cruises back in the Western Mediterranean, since August 16, with the Grandiosa from Genoa.
The Magnifica should also have been part of it, departing from Trieste to the Greek islands, but due to lack of filling and fearing a second wave of Covid in Greece, MSC preferred to postpone the cruises. We will therefore have to be patient …
“The recovery will take place gradually, said Patrick Pourbaix, General Manager France, Belgium and Luxembourg of MSC Cruises during a conference, Friday, September 4, 2020.
From week to week on the Grandiosa, we observe a filling rate of just under 50%. We feel an interest, but also a concern, we are observed and we must prove ourselves“. But DG France still wanted to stress that”the remarks of the first passengers were very positive“.
Two Covid tests before getting on board
It must be said that the company has worked hard to “shield” its sanitary protocol.
“We know very well what happened at the start of the Covid-19 epidemic on board the Diamond Princess, but that can no longer happen with the new processes. Even if we have a case on board, the passenger will be isolated and disembarked at the first port, and this is already planned with the authorities of all the stopovers that we are going to frequent.
Moreover, on the first three cruises carried out, there was no case of contamination on board., continues Patrick Pourbaix. Today, cruising is the safest product for going on vacation. It’s a strong statement, but I tested it myself and I accept my words“.
The filtering starts long before getting on the Grandiosa. “We do not welcome on board only passengers from the Schengen Area, explains Patrick Pourbaix. And nationalities on the list of high risk countries (based on the guidelines given by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, editor’s note) must perform an RT-PCR test by swab within 72 hours before the departure of the ship, i.e. Thursday afternoon, for a Sunday departure from Genoa. This is the case for France and Belgium“, he says.
To this protocol is added a second screening test for Covid-19, this antigen, in the cruise terminal, the result of which is known within an hour.
If it is found to be positive, the passenger will have to perform another PCR test. “In any case, if there is a suspicion of Covid on a passenger, he will be refused access on board, continues Patrick Pourbaix. On the first three cruises, we had a few cases “.
Passengers will also need fill out a health questionnaire and their temperature will be taken twice, in the terminal and then before boarding.
Amenities on board
The company also worked with the shipyards of the Atlantic of Saint-Nazaire, to proceed to modifications to the ventilation systems on board, particularly in areas intended to isolate sick passengers.
The medical device has been reinforced, the wearing of the mask obligatory when one circulates and the temperature is taken twice a day (morning and evening) at the entrance to the catering areas.
The common areas have also been fitted out. The buffet is no longer self-service, but served by a steward. Evening shows are performed four times instead of two, to ensure adequate distance between passengers.
These same safety distances are ensured between the deckchairs in the swimming pool or during the entertainment. The children’s clubs, the discotheque and the aquapark are open.
When stopovers (Civitavecchia, Naples and Palermo in Italy and Valletta in Malta), passengers must obligatorily to carry out the excursions with MSC, in order to guarantee the security of the protocol. Consequently, the company has revised the prices, in particular with a package of 100 € for three excursions. MSC offers an average of 4 to 5 different excursions per stopover.
But the director France notes all the same that as a general rule, “one in two passengers prefers to stay on board, this is a little more than usual“.
Other provision, “in Malta, which has been classified in the red zone by Belgium, we do not let Belgian passengers get off, and we give them a certificate from the captain to prevent them from being in quarantine on return“.
The MSC protocol generalized by all companies
With the implementation of this health protocol which seems to be working, MSC expects to a gradual resumption of activity.
For now, the Grandiosa can only accommodate passengers at 70% of its capacity, in order to respect the distancing measures.
“All companies around the world are watching this reboot, adds Patrick Pourbaix, we are in the process of teaching the protocol. Even within the CLIA, we are asked to take the lead and we will become the protocol that will be generalized by all companies.
We see it with Costa Cruises which will be relaunched soon. For once there is some kind of global union in the industry and so much the better“.
For its comeback, MSC mainly hosted an Italian clientele, followed by the French. “The latter do not hesitate to come to Genoa, they did not wait for the opening of Marseille, which could be done soon, in view of the discussions we have with the cabinet of Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne or the health authorities. . We’re wishing for the best“, adds Patrick Pourbaix.
Without yet having a precise answer on the timetable for putting the boats back into service, Patrick Pourbaix still hopes for a gradual increase in power over the winter season (still with a maximum fill rate of 70%), then a near summer 2021 season. normal, of the order of 95 to 98% of the activity.
On the other hand, there is no question of increasing or selling off cruise prices. “There will be no catching up, we will have to swallow the loss“, he adds.
No question either of getting rid of the ships or of stopping the orders in progress. “The entire construction plan, including the luxury boats, is being maintained, with the necessary deadlines to catch up with the delay due to containment“.
A policy geared towards travel agencies
To restart the machine, MSC Cruises communicates a lot with the agencies, in particular on the new sanitary protocol.
A special travel agent rate was opened aboard the Grandiosa, at 199 € and a famtrip is planned for the fall.
As for the cruises that were canceled following the Covid-19, DG France believes “that he should no rush on refunds“after September 15 or at the end of the validity period of the credit cards, thanks to the flexibility of the measures offered by MSC, the guaranteed prices on postponed cruises and the onboard credit vouchers offered in addition.
Travel agencies, for their part, have benefited from additional commission of 5% for postponement management work.
Posted by Anaïs Borios
Journalist – TourMaG.com
See all articles by Anaïs Borios