Twelve travel journalists have produced a video to share their passion for cruising and Our Man On The Ground’s cruise correspondent explains the story behind it
Travel is one of the worst hit sectors of the COVID-19 crisis and cruising has come in for a particular battering in some mainstream news coverage. It has evolved from Diamond Princess being quarantined earlier in the year, to ships being turned away from ports and – now all lines have halted operations – ongoing examples of unbridled venom and negativity.
Of course, factual news must be reported, but the industry I have been involved in for well over a decade has become the ‘whipping boy’ of travel, with some writers and members of the public – many of whom have probably never set foot on a ship – taking pot shots. However, there is another very different side to the story.
The cliché of ‘floating petri dishes’ has been repeated over and over again, yet for years cruise lines have operated stringent health measures that go far beyond those in other sectors of travel. Have you ever visited a hotel where you’re asked to fill in a health questionnaire before checking in or been requested to sanitise hands each time you go to a restaurant?
A recent survey ‘revealed’ three in ten of cruise passengers questioned would not sail again. Of course, the report could have been angled on the fact that seven in ten would.
Whilst the images of Diamond Princess and ships left ‘all at sea’ because ports refused to admit them were undeniably stark, the vast majority of more than 270 cruise ships that are members of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) – the body that represents more than 95% of the world’s cruise fleet – were not affected by COVID-19, and those that were, found themselves left at the mercy of circumstances beyond their control.
Today (May 1) Cruise & Maritime Voyages’ ship Vasco da Gama arrived in London Tilbury at the end of a repatriation voyage. The last ship in the seven-strong British-based line to reach its home port, Vasco de Gama sailed from Phuket, Thailand, to repatriate 798 Australian and 108 New Zealand nationals before embarking on a 6,098 nautical mile voyage back to the UK. CMV has recorded no coronavirus cases amongst passengers or crew on board Vasco da Gama, or any other ship within the fleet, yet this story will not receive anything like the column inches devoted to adverse coverage of the cruise industry. Similarly, several lines have offered their ships as floating hospitals and, for those still at sea with crew, are accommodating them in passenger cabins.
On that topic, crew members have been described as ‘slave labour’ by the detractors. A couple of years ago I visited a crew training and housing facility in the Philippines run by Royal Caribbean International and talked to staff. Invariably they were proud of their careers and said that their salaries were far higher than wages they could earn at home, enabling them to buy houses for their families which would previously only have been a pipedream.
Large ships provide around 450 different jobs and many potential crew members apply for employment after hearing about employment opportunities from friends and family members who already work for lines. The lines also provide employees with training that enables them to successfully pursue other jobs when they decide it is time to head back to dry land. For instance, many chefs return to their homelands and open restaurants. So they are hardly being press-ganged to work on cruise ships.
Additionally, recent statistics from CLIA show the cruise industry generates £10 billion for the UK economy each year and a fifth of the 435,000 people employed in businesses supported by the cruise industry across Europe are based in the UK. Globally, the industry generates more than $150 billion per year in economic activity and supports over 1.17 million jobs worldwide.
These are some of the reasons I joined 11 of my industry colleagues to produce our five-minute video explaining why we love cruises. We’re all working from home in lockdown and decided to act after being dismayed by unbalanced and inaccurate coverage of the industry during the pandemic. Between us we have sailed on hundreds of cruises around the world and write for leading websites and publications.
The video was edited by Dave Monk, who said: “We didn’t want it to be too long so we set ourselves a time limit of 20 seconds each, which is a very short time to convey your love of such a wide-ranging industry. Even so, between us we have covered big ships, small ships, square riggers, expeditions and river cruising in various regions.
“Although this project was spurred by the coronavirus outbreak we didn’t want to make it all about that – we decided to create a positive, upbeat video that will stand the test of time even when, thank goodness, we are all sailing again.”
There are always going to be people who will vow they never want to go on a cruise, in exactly the same way there are those who declare they will never to go camping, caravanning, check into an all-inclusive resort or ultra-luxury hotel. Although, like many things in life, how do you know until you’ve tried it? Again, oft repeated stereotypes paint a very one-sided image of cruising and I always say there’s a cruise for everyone.
Over the years I’ve sailed on mega-ships with dazzling West End-style shows and non-stop entertainment, crossed the Atlantic on a magnificent masted tall ship, explored the waterways of Europe with eminent guest speakers, discovered remote regions of Asia on ships carrying just ten passengers, seen incredible wildlife on an Africa small ship safari and embarked on unforgettable far-flung expedition sailings to the Arctic and Patagonia. Find out more by watching our video below.
Known as the ‘River Cruise Queen’, Jeannine Williamson is an award-winning travel writer, cruise expert and our cruise correspondent, who has clocked up thousands of nautical miles.