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'Cruising has been a great value product but now each ship and cruise line will offer not only fun but a way to travel safely and stay healthy,' Oneil Khosa said

Why Bahamas Paradise believes it's ideally positioned to restart cruising

Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line could safely resume sailing, if allowed, because it can offer a 'controlled cruise experience,' CEO Oneil Khosa told Seatrade Cruise News.

As the Port of Palm Beach, Florida's only resident line, it has a high degree of control at the passenger terminal. The same holds true at Grand Bahama Island, where it has its own port infrastructure.

There, Bahamas Paradise could offer shore excursions that are completely isolated from the local population. It may be possible to create a zone of exclusivity for passengers to stay within, and that would also protect Grand Bahama residents.

'We can keep third party exposure of our guests to a minimum,' Khosa said. The hotel stay package wouldn't be offered initially.

Uncrowded destination

'There's no other tourism at Grand Bahama. It's a fantastic destination and provides more value, with more beach to yourself. You're not competing with 10,000 other cruise passengers. It's a laid-back destination ... which may turn out to be our biggest advantage.

'The Bahamas are our only destination and we have a great relationship with them,' he continued. 'We are an economic lifeline to Grand Bahama, the most sustainable means of travel.' After Hurricane Dorian, Bahamas Paradise became the first line to evacuate people to safety.

When the US is comfortable with allowing cruises, 'I see no doubt the Bahamas will be ready to welcome us back,' Khosa said, adding that travelers will be vetted and not cause health risks for the destination.

Short-cruise edge

Before the shutdown, Bahamas Paradise had no known COVID-19 cases, according to Khosa, nor has it had a history of regular flu.

'Our passengers are in and out within 48 hours. That is not enough time for anything to incubate,' he explained. The ships routinely go through a deep clean every two days at turnaround.

The line will screen at embarkation, including temperature checks, with its doctor and medical team present. 'We're evaluating each step from the time people enter the terminal,' Khosa said. 'We're eliminating touch points.'

This is part of a full coronavirus response manual with procedures addressing all operations including the air conditioning system, sanitation practices and how social distancing would work on board.

CDC interaction

As far as getting permission to sail, things are in a 'very fluid state.' The company drafted a plan for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and received some feedback.

'We are going back and forth,' Khosa said. 'I'm not in a position to say whether it's positive or negative. Certainly there is momentum.

'The ball is in the court of the cruise lines. We are providing information about what we believe we could be doing. We are making suggestions and tweaking them.'

500-cabin limit

When the no-sail order lifts, the plan is to operate regular two-night cruises back to back, starting with Grand Celebration where no more than 500 of its 750 cabins would be open for sale, and later adding the 658-cabin Grand Classica, also with reduced occupancy.

'With just 500 rooms, we would be able to maintain social distancing in the ship and public spaces.' Khosa said. When it comes to dining, both Grand Celebration and Grand Classica are laid out in a way that's 'very conducive to the post-COVID era.' It's possible to segregate tables and reduce seating capacity at each venue.

The dining rooms, theater and shows would all be capped at 50% capacity.

Younger cruisers, ample drive market

As an operator of short cruises, Bahamas Paradise has traditionally drawn a high percentage of first-timers, and age skews younger, with 60% of travelers 50 and younger. That is a population at less risk from complications of the virus.

Many — 50% to 60% — live within driving distance, alleviating the need for flights.

Khosa thinks Bahamas Paradise will be an appealing option as people start to think about traveling again.

'We are a get-away cruise. You don't need to plan as much. You don't need a passport. You can go Friday and get back Sunday ... You feel you are within your zone of comfort.'

As far as Florida accepting Bahamian passengers, 'We will apply the same standards on the other side and be subject to what CDC wants us to do,' Khosa said, noting that Grand Bahama's population is under 30,000, so it's possible to keep tabs on the health situation there.

The crew

Most crew from one ship — mainly South Americans — were repatriated before the shutdown. Getting Asians home is another matter. 'Every day, there is a new development. You cannot really plan,' Khosa said. The line awaits a relaxation of restrictions on crew movements from CDC and other public health agencies overseas.

'So far, our crew are doing great, Khosa maintained. 'We implemented a lot of policies from day one. They are in passenger cabins. We provide high-speed Internet. (Even before this, the line gave crew free Wi-Fi.) We haven't had problems. Because we're a small cruise line, we are closer to the crew. We are fortunate our crew has stood by us.'

The future of cruising — smaller ships?

Right now the situation for cruising seems 'pretty dire,' Khosa acknowledged, but he thinks the future will be 'positive with the evolution of new practices for sanitation, safety and changes in design. I also believe we have reached a high point in ship sizes. We may be at a point where there's a reversal of that trend. What would shape that is how the consumer responds.

'Cruising has been a great value product but now each ship and cruise line will offer not only fun but a way to travel safely and stay healthy. There will be a higher level of scrutiny behind the scenes, lots of processes and procedures to make the product more sustainable. The relationship between cruise lines and destinations may change.

'We feel very confident our product will keep our guests feeling comfortable,' he reiterated.

'[Customer] age, being within driving distance and the controlled cruise experience we plan to provide, that gives us a lot of confidence in the future.'

As Khosa sees it, Bahamas Paradise would even become a 'test ground' for experienced cruisers who'd like to get away for a short trip without committing to a longer itinerary at this time.

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