(Bloomberg) – While hotels around the world struggle to keep the lights on, the cruise industry is already planning initial trips in a few weeks. However, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, that will be considerably different from what regular travelers expect. Among other changes, pre-boarding health checks and face masks will be carried out, and self-service buffets will leave the scene.

Perhaps most notably, the first few itineraries will not travel to a different country every day. Post-pandemic navigation will be kept closer to home, or at least to the home port.

But first, given the early spread of COVID-19 among passengers and crew on some ships, any line that restarts cruises will have a difficult task of convincing customers that their health and safety will be sufficiently protected.

Cleaner, safer and smaller cruises

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently has a no-sail order in U.S. waters directed at ships carrying more than 250 passengers and crew, in effect until at least July 24. This means that smaller boutique ship companies will be able to blaze a trail ahead of the major players.

“The fact that we only navigate domestic rivers has definitely provided a greater opportunity to resume our operations in a responsible, safe and timely manner,” says John Wagoner, founder and CEO of American Queen Steamboat Co., whose American Duchess has only 166 passengers and 70 crew for the Mississippi.

In announcing the company’s plans to return in late June with “Antebellum South” Itineraries, Wagoner detailed new security protocols including pre-shipment temperature controls, limited capacity shore excursions and the end of self-service buffets. These changes are likely to resonate among large ship cruise companies that have yet to reveal their plans. But guests on American Queen’s riverboats will have an added benefit: guaranteed, fast access to America’s regional healthcare systems. Passengers who become ill or have a fever at any time during their voyage will be removed from the ship and transferred to a local hospital, ensuring better medical care and minimizing the risk to other passengers.

Other companies’ protocols include hourly sanitation rounds and the availability of full personal protective equipment, including face shields and gloves, for all passengers and crew.

New and limited routes

The US Approach travel on the Mississippi River is part of a broader trend of regionalized and limited itineraries. In Europe, expect to see tried and tested itineraries. On the Danube, for example, travel can stop near Bratislava and Budapest, sticking to the reopening of Germany and Austria. Some ocean voyages will even focus on a single country, such as Norway, where they will spend more time in fewer ports or at sea. In general, the details of where people can navigate and what they can do in the process are still being worked out.

The focus on sailing in a single country is not entirely a response to border closures, although it presents ongoing challenges. The first players to return to sea have poor air connections, which means cruises eager to get on board must be close enough to drive to departure points.

“It is very similar to what happened immediately after September 11,” says Andrew Coggins, a cruise expert and professor of management at the Lubin School of Business at Pace University. “Back then, ports of call suddenly became ports of origin because people were reluctant to fly.” In other words, cruise companies are diversifying starting points so that more consumers can board a ship without having to board a plane.

Border closings present more thorny problems for the industry giants, helping to explain why more familiar names will take longer to return.

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The great unknowns

While its operations remain robust, the world’s largest cruise brand, Carnival Cruise Line, has also been busy developing its own approach to the U.S., planning to connect three home ports of Florida and Texas to any Caribbean destination. that you are allowed to visit. But that will depend on the CDC lifting its cruise ban in July and whether Caribbean ports welcome ships.

Both factors are questionable. Until now, Carnival and its competitors, including Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, have remained silent about their onboard health plans, or how they could handle future outbreaks. CDC is expected to collect proposals from these companies for post-pandemic protocols before issuing new guidelines.

Coggins, from Pace University, says the lines are probably watching as restaurants and movie theaters set the tone for best practice. Served dinners can replace buffets, and show productions can add matinees to allow for social distancing in the theaters on board, he says. To deal with the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19 infections, “they may have to establish some kind of squad [médico] flying that can be transported by plane to the ship, “adds Coggins.

The quest for ‘normality’ in Europe

In Europe, where border restrictions begin to loosen, ocean travel can resume with short itineraries of no more than a week, focusing more on days at sea than visiting many ports, according to Jens Skrede, managing director of Cruise Europe , a network of ports and destinations from business to business.

Local and national authorities have not yet approved these plans. Even when international flights begin to fly between the EU’s Schengen countries, ocean cruises remain stagnant. Skrede predicts that the Baltic and Scandinavian ports will be among the first to turn on the lights. “In general, the northern part of our region seems to have the COVID-19 situation a little more under control,” he says, adding that travel may not reach a critical mass until 2021.

Original Note: Cruises Are Coming Back. What They’ll Look Like After Covid-19

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