The first phase of reopening the cruise industry focuses on regional small-scale sailing, plying more rivers than oceans. But what about the big companies and their giant ships?
When these behemoths return to sea, with up to 8,880 passengers and crew on board, they will be at the forefront of post-pandemic technology. They will have to be.
“Cruising has always been a ‘high quality’ activity in almost every aspect,” says Chekitan Dev, professor of marketing in the School of Hospitality Administration at Cornell University. You hang out with people in bars. You share the buffet, join the crowds for activities and shows, hand out fitness equipment and poker chips, and discover new places on shore excursions with other people. Cruising is the antithesis of social distancing; it’s all about the group travel experience. “Shifting to a ‘less tactile’ model will force cruise lines to rethink almost everything they do,” he says.
Besides Norwegian, which this week announced preliminary reopening plans – for example, the fleet-wide installation of medical grade (H13 HEPA) air filters which the cruise line says will eliminate 99.95 % of airborne pathogens – none of the major companies have released details of post-pandemic health and safety plans. In the United States, cruise lines await new regulations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; a CDC no-sail order remains in effect until at least July 24.
In the meantime, cruise lines will be outsourcing at least part of this ‘rethinking’ process for the post-pandemic era to industrial designers who normally tackle challenges such as installing water slides. on the upper decks. Their proposals, which are brought to cruise executives using virtual reality technology, range from smart, portable devices for crowd control to elevators that work on voice commands and even robot crew members, among others. the innovations. Some are already being moved into prototypes under strict nondisclosure agreements.
“Now is the time when we can be creative and crazy,” says Georg Piantino, Principal Architect at YSA Design in Norway, a leading cruise ship design company with clients such as Disney, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC Cruises. Here’s what he and other industry experts are pushing cruise ships for in the very near future.
Smart technology everywhere
Some of the latest cruise ships already have built-in contactless systems. Princess Cruises, for example, gives customers a quarter-sized portable device that unlocks cabin doors and pays for drinks, and the app for Celebrity Cruises allows users to open the doors remotely. This trend will only accelerate. Beyond the obvious need for soap dispensers and contactless toilets, quizzes, menus, receipts will be made hands-free; elevator buttons will be replaced with motion or voice activated sensors.
Smart technology, whether embedded in wearable devices or mobile apps, can also be the key to social distancing. Especially on large ships with thousands of passengers, Piantino sees them as being like the buzzers of quick, casual restaurants that alert customers when it’s their turn to use the pool deck or the gym. (The same goes for crowd control when boarding or disembarking.)
Systems that can track your location can also tell passengers which locations are for full capacity vessels and those without crowds. Piantino expects casinos to become contactless as well, with slots that can be controlled from your phone. The main problem, he says, is making sure people have room to linger while they wait to use popular equipment. “You can’t make them stand [around the pool deck] and watch someone else swim, ”he explains. His solution: direct passengers to activities in less populated areas. This could mean artistic tours in guest halls or daytime talks in the nightclub. By extension, cabins with balconies, without a mandatory wait for sunbathing, will certainly become more popular.
Anti-germs and ready for quarantine
Redesigning cruise ships for a post-pandemic world may require stepping down to stud farms.
In some renderings, cabins may shrink to accommodate a vestibule in the lobby to serve as a waiting area for meals and medication in the event a guest is quarantined. Another possibility is to create part wings that can be completely sealed, if necessary. Flexible interior layouts with furniture that is easy to rearrange will become paramount for designers, says Anne Mari Gullikstad, Managing Director of YSA Design.
Inside the cabins, panels hidden behind the walls could be used to hook up medical equipment, allowing any cabin to be converted into a hospital room in the event of a viral outbreak. Antimicrobial fabrics could repel germs from surfaces such as beds, curtains, sofas and chairs.
“We are now forcing our suppliers to come up with materials that look rich, to preserve the feeling of luxury cruising you had before the pandemic,” says Piantino. The challenge is to find cushioning options that don’t seem sterile.
Suppliers are also offering wall-mounted temperature-sensing thermal-resolution cameras and electrostatic spray technology to cruise passengers, which Norwegian said it would use to sanitize and disinfect cabins and public spaces.
Smaller changes in operation can also make a big difference. Professor Cornell Dev, who consults with hotel, cruise and restaurant companies, says buffets could soon look like ‘Chipotles on steroids’, with guests stating what they want while waiters fill their plates behind plexiglass barriers. In sit-down restaurants, menus can be downloaded to mobile apps or, for a more impressive factor, projected directly onto the table. In exhibition halls and theaters, Piantino envisions dividers to separate small groups; Whether singers and dancers will perform on stage while they are socially estranged is a separate question.
Dev adds that a certain amount of cleaning, both in cabins and public spaces, could be relegated to robotic vacuums and sanitizing machines, further reducing human contact.
Who will pay?
The first guests back at sea will undoubtedly serve as guinea pigs for the widespread changes that are likely to occur, says Dev. “They’re risk takers, so they’re the perfect fit to beta test some of these ideas with and iron out for possible deployment.”
Passengers returning early will also bear the majority of those costs, said Art Sbarsky, a former cruise line executive who has worked for Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises and Crystal Cruises. “It works contrary to the thought that there will be low prices when the ships come back” to increase bookings, he said. “They will have to compensate [all the new technology]. “(The opposite may be true in cases of less ambitious modernization.) While Sbarsky agrees that a massive change will occur in all aspects of the cruising experience, he says it is impossible to make a boat from Completely contactless cruise There is an emotional aspect to consider: no one wants to vacation in a floating hospital.
“People go on a cruise knowing that they are going to socialize with other people,” Sbarsky adds. “The ideas all seem directionally appealing,” he admits, before pointing out the one major issue: “They all cut into the very fabric of the cruising experience. “
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