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What does the lockdown exit strategy mean for the return of cruise holidays?

Cruise ships float without passengers in the Mediterranean  - ROY ISSA/AFP VIA GETTY

Cruise ships float without passengers in the Mediterranean – ROY ISSA/AFP VIA GETTY

“Wow! What a day! Sales have gone mad. Particularly ocean cruise. So nice to see these kinds of numbers again,” tweeted Iain Powell, head of trade sales at Saga Cruises.

Anthony Daniels, the general manager of Hurtigruten in Britain, said: “Excellent trading day for Hurtigruten – all seasons and varied destinations! Great to see others sharing similar messages and hope this continues for all UK travel industry.”

Cruise lines and travel agents reported a wave of bookings after Britons were finally given hope that they could sail again soon.

Following Boris Johnson’s speech on Monday suggesting foreign travel could return in May, pent-up demand for a holiday at sea shows signs of being released.

The optimism came despite continuing uncertainty over when and how cruising will restart. So what does this mean for the return of passengers on ships?

'Ghost ships' have been a popular site along England's south coast since the suspension of cruises in March 2020 - DAVID CLIFF/GETTY'Ghost ships' have been a popular site along England's south coast since the suspension of cruises in March 2020 - DAVID CLIFF/GETTY

‘Ghost ships’ have been a popular site along England’s south coast since the suspension of cruises in March 2020 – DAVID CLIFF/GETTY

Mr Johnson’s cautious announcement of a gradual easing of lockdown restrictions included the setting up of a new task force by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps that will report on April 12 if overseas holidays can be allowed as early as May 17.

Even this date would mean further delays on some cruise lines returning. P&O Cruises is currently planning to restart with new flagship Iona at the end of April while the inaugural cruise of Saga’s Spirit of Adventure is due on May 4. Cunard is suspended until the key date of May 17.

Carnival UK president Simon Palethorpe, who represents both P&O and Cunard, said: “As more clarity is provided on likely dates for travel and tourism to return we will publish updates on our return to service and the experience on board.”

Saga declined to comment on any itinerary changes while it studied the implications of the announcement. At Hurtigruten, Mr Daniels said the Norwegian line had previously cancelled cruises from Dover until the end of May and is in contact with the Foreign Office – which is still advising against ocean cruising – and international authorities over starting expedition voyages from June.

However, he said he was “cautiously optimistic”, adding: “The roadmap announcement is a positive step to restarting the travel industry.”

Marella Cruises became the first line after Mr Johnson’s speech to delay cruises, putting its restart date back from May 1 to May 17, in line with the new timeline.

The cruise industry body CLIA welcomed the announcement and said it would “engage with Government as part of the new Global Travel Taskforce on achieving a safe restart for cruise at home and abroad”. A spokesman said it had been working with ministers for months “on a detailed set of protocols to allow cruising to resume in a safe way”.

Cruise destinations popular with Britons are still largely off limits, due to coronavirus measures, although Greece has suggested it would allow vaccinated tourists to visit as soon as May. Regional line Celestyal said: “Once cruising resumes, we will welcome guests from across the globe, including the UK, with Greece and its islands being a top destination choice for the British market.”

The prospect of round-Britain cruises was raised by both Saga and Viking last year as a possible first step to resuming operations. Today, Riviera Travel opened sales on its 158-passenger ship Seaventure, which is cruising around Ireland and Scotland in July.

Small Scottish lines – some of which ran a few cruises last year – are also waiting to see what the Holyrood parliament announces on its longer plan to lift lockdown.

Overall, though, the atmosphere is upbeat. James Cole, the managing director of Panache Cruises, told The Telegraph: “We expect demand to rise significantly for cruising in 2021 as soon as there is more clarity and certainty around when it will restart.”


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