Timely, accurate information from authority figures
Timely, accurate information from key authority figures has shown to be most effective in creating a feeling of safety about cruising, according to Dr. Jennifer Holland, cruise & tourism researcher/lecturer, competitive marketing, School of Sport and Service Management, University of Brighton.
Feeling safe and trust are key
'Feeling safe and trust are more important than anything else. Providing more information on the measures and health protocols provides reassurance, and much more can be done to highlight what the individual lines and [Cruise Lines International Association] are doing,' she said.
Holland's PhD study, completed last year, explored risk perceptions in ocean cruising. She looked at risk in relation to physical, financial, social, psychological, time, opportunity, functional and health aspects.
'My research found that people feel safe on the cruise ships and place enormous trust in the cruise lines to look after them, take them to safe places and take all the precautions to prevent them from getting sick,' Holland said. 'Being in a familiar home-like environment reduces the perception of risk, and prior travel experience also reduces risk perceptions.'
Even during outbreaks, people trust
Holland noted the ongoing quarantine and travel disruptions are the latest in a long history of health outbreaks impacting cruise travel, including H1N1, influenza, measles, dengue fever, Legionnaires' disease and norovirus.
'Even during times of outbreaks, my study showed passengers still trust and this should be reassuring to cruise lines and industry that the message is getting through,' Holland said. 'Risk is an inherent part of travel and while most tourists accept this, research shows many people choose to cruise specifically because they feel safe and trust in the cruise line.'
The long-term implications of coronavirus on attitudes about cruising, particularly among people who haven't cruised, are a great concern right now.
According to Holland's findings, although many non-cruisers worry about getting sick on a ship, other risks are much more influential in deciding to go on a cruise, 'so the effects of the COVID-19 crisis may hopefully be limited.'
She found non-cruisers worry more about social and psychological risks, with concerns about not being 'the type of person' to go on a cruise — not old enough, not needing to be looked after, the rise of 'cruise-shaming.' These, in Holland's view, are more important to vacation decision-making than worries about health risks.
WHO still advises against blanket travel restrictions
The professor noted both the UN World Tourism Organization and World Health Organization have said restricting travel beyond the most affected areas is not effective and will have negative repercussions, and those without underlying conditions should be encouraged to still travel and go on their holidays.
At least three countries, including the US, Canada and Australia, currently have cruise-specific cautions. The US is advising citizens, particularly those with underlying health conditions, not to travel by cruise ship. The Public Health Agency of Canada is recommending Canadians 'avoid all cruise ship travel.' Australia is asking people to 'reconsider taking an overseas cruise.' (Australia's directive doesn't include domestic cruises.)
Holland said while the crisis is evolving and being closely monitored, and cruise lines and operators are 'taking every precaution and measure possible ... the mass panic and fear, especially in ports turning away ships with no virus, is not helpful,' and could lead to the collapse of vulnerable companies.