Cruise

A-ROSA’s regional director predicts faster rebound for river cruising

Huntley Mitchell

Huntley Mitchell

Travel Weekly chewed the fat with A-ROSA’s Birgit Eisbrenner about all things cruising, including the line’s plans to restart this month.

It appears A-ROSA may return to cruising faster than many of the other brands, given its recent announcement. What makes the company so confident? Is early June still achievable?

Local German and Austrian authorities’ decisions to relax lockdown measures encouraged us to restart our operation. The plan is to commence sailings on the Rhine and Danube as soon as circumstances permit. We hope that this will be the case in June. A team of external and internal hygiene and health experts has been tasked with developing health and safety measures for our guests and crew. We look forward to welcoming guests on board our ships again when these measures are ready to be implemented.

What support is A-ROSA offering travel agents and clients whose travel plans have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

There are many variables involved which make it difficult to provide a generic response. That said, the conditions of our popular premium, all-inclusive tariff allow guest to rebook once free of charge, up to 30 days prior to departure.

While other operators adopted similar policies in response to the pandemic, the free rebooking feature has always been standard for us. In light of the pandemic, and to provide our guests with additional peace of mind, we even went one step further and extended this popular feature to the replacement cruise also.

Other support tools are being applied too, ranging from onboard credits to future cruise credits. However, these tools vary, depending on the restrictions imposed by the governments of the respective cruise regions at the time.

A-ROSA hasn’t really been operating in the Australian and New Zealand markets for very long. How much has the COVID-19 disrupted its growth plans?

Fortunately, not too much, as most of our guests from this part of the world opted to rebook. We are also seeing strong interest for next year, which is very encouraging. We just extended our double super-early booking discounts for 2021 until the end of June, which is proving very popular.

Are you concerned by the level of reputational damage that the Ruby Princess saga has caused to the cruise industry as a whole?

The incident was very unfortunate, and my heart goes out to everyone affected.

Luckily, we have superbly trained cruise agents in Australia and New Zealand. Speaking with many of them, I was very impressed how proficiently they engaged with their clients and put things into perspective. Aussies and Kiwis are also very experienced and resilient travellers, well capable to form an educated opinion for themselves.

Will the diehard cruisers return faster than we all would rationally expect?

Based on a recent Cruise Critic report for the US, UK and Australian markets, there is strong interest in cruising. Of course, hygiene practices and general health and safety are important aspects, but these are currently being worked through by cruise lines and CLIA’s new global health framework.

Will river cruises rebound faster than ocean cruises?

River cruise ships cater for fewer guests than ocean cruise ships, which some people find reassuring. River cruise ships’ proximity to townships, with access to medical facilities in case of an emergency, also appeals to some guests. Additionally, there’s no risk of being stuck in international waters, which may put some people at ease.

All in all, I think these arguments favour a faster rebound of river cruising.

Will the cruise industry ever be able to attract new cruisers after this?

Most definitively. The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t changed that cruising is a great value-for-money holiday option with unparalleled inclusions.

Cruising also appeals to many people because it is stress-free and super relaxing. You unpack once, visit many destinations along the way and can do as much or as little as you please. A perfect holiday indeed!

What will the future of cruising look like?

It will bounce back for sure, like travel in general. Many people I speak with cannot wait to pack their suitcases again. There’s a lot of pent up demand, as the lockdown restrictions made people realise how precious freedom is and the ability to move freely and visit different places.

Naturally, social distancing measures and health and safety protocols force operators to adjust processes, but all industry players are on to it.

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