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Contactless environments are key, say Virgin Voyages’ Frank Weber and MSC Cruises’ Jacques Van Staden

According to MSC Cruises' Van Staden, QR menus have proved surprisingly effective
Dining and social environments on cruise vessels will become increasingly equipped with technologies that support contactless operations — for good.

So said Jacques Van Staden, as he discussed MSC Cruises’ foray into contactless ‘dispensing machines and condiments’ and the cruise line’s aim to introduce ‘individually compartmentalised dishes’ to improve hygiene. ‘In room service, everything is plated,’ he asserted, ‘eventually we will be moving away from this to individualised compartmentalised dishes.’

The comments came on the second of the three-day Seatrade Cruise Virtual event, which started yesterday with a Health & Safety focus and continued today with a Guest Experience programme.

Moderated by Richard Regan, director, partner relations, Cruise Lines International Association, the ‘Future of Dining & Social Environments’ saw Frank Weber, SVP hotel operations, Virgin Voyages respond with Virgin’s own experience of compartmentalised food servings.

Food hygiene

Weber said, ‘We actually designed a whole system of these compartmentalised dishes… afterwards they’re closed off and sealed off. It’s cleaner and easier and allows for better presentation of food. It works in our favour at this point. It’s working extremely well for crew in quarantine.’

QR codes

Staden went on to outline the unprecedented success of non-physical menus on MSC Cruises’ vessels, adding, ‘One of the big successes we’ve seen is on QR menus. Every single venue...has QR menus. We’ll probably continue with that, it’s effective in all age groups, actually. 

‘I think we’ll see more of that and we’ll see how we can track people on board through their mobile phones rather than with wristbands.’ 

Van Staden also noted that the absence of self-service, which requires additional crew members, has led to increased ‘grab and go’ items available for passengers to ‘speed up service.’

Social distancing and safety protocols

Weber explained Scarlet Lady was designed with contactless technology in mind — and Virgin Voyages has had to exercise fewer on-board changes than its industry counterparts as a result. ‘There’s no self-service food around the ship… our menus are the same, we don’t have a buffet… staggering seating for us is already part of the operations.’  

He continued, ‘We put control in the hands of passengers via our app. We have the Sailor service app, you can just send a text over its chat function… Really using technology that people are used to today. 

‘We have already designed these [measures] as part of our sailing experience.’

Additional safety measures include the installation of AtmosAir to kill bacteria and viruses and screens around seating booths in social areas, which according to Weber, ‘look great and fully integrated, not like an afterthought.’ 

Due diligence 

Commending the work of MSC Executive Chairman Pierfrancesco Vago, Van Staden said there ‘are no exceptions to due diligence,’ recalling an incident where a party of 15 passengers were turned away after one tested positive for COVID-19.

He acceded, ‘Everyone’s cooking with masks on… it’s very challenging to work like this’ and said ‘if cruise lines had the opportunity to purchase vaccines, every one of them would do so.’