Johanna Jainchill
Johanna Jainchill

Travel companies around the world are in Covid-19-related upheaval, and the people and the businesses that depend on cruise ships that have not sailed since March are among those hurting the most.

Recognizing the scope of hardship that cruise-dependent destinations and businesses face, two people who spent decades working in shore operations -- Larry Stauffer, who spent 18 years with Disney Cruise Line, and Tom Anderson, who has worked at eight different cruise brands over his career -- in April formed Destinations Together, an organization that aims to support and provide information and an open discussion forum for tour operators, port operators and others suffering in the wake of the pandemic.

"We've both been in the business for over 30 years, and we said, 'how do we stay connected and help all these tour operators and port managers through what we expected to be a very difficult times?'" Anderson said last month, adding that, at that point, they didn't expect the hardship to be this long-lasting.

The organization aims to "be a platform for collaboration," Anderson said. That includes chat groups, brainstorming calls and webinars that focus on topics like guest service strategies, leadership and revenue ideas.

Anderson and Stauffer, who most recently did destination consulting work, are particularly concerned about cruise-dependent business in places where, unlike the U.S. and the Canada, there has been almost no financial support.

"A place like Mexico is virtually doing nothing," he said. In the Caribbean, he said, it's been "patchwork depending on location" but in general financial support is quite limited.

As the CDC has continued to extend the No Sail Order, the destinations continue to be left in limbo.

"The days go by, and they don't have any money coming in," Anderson said of cruise-focused businesses, citing a place like St. Kitts where, he said, 85% of the tourism is cruise related. "Without cruise, their tourism sector doesn't have much traction. How do you pivot off of that and help ensure the island stays safe and doesn't degenerate into social unrest -- which would really pull the rug out from under them in the longer term."

Destinations Together has been trying to connect members globally so that businesses still in total shutdown can learn from the ones where cruising has resumed slowly, "to be able to bring back solutions, particularly to the Caribbean. Because without a healthy Caribbean we can't have a healthy global cruise market.

"We're trying to lean on the other destinations globally that are further along and less tied to the U.S.," he added. "And most tour operators are very willing to share best practices and strategies so we can all get to the other side of this."

During one brainstorming session, Anderson said that participants came from Europe, the Caribbean, Hawaii, Alaska, and New Zealand. It recently hosted a webinar with stakeholders from Malta and Civitavecchia, Italy, the port closest to Rome, to discuss the port and tour operations in the pandemic environment.  

Another webinar, called "Generate Incremental Revenue in the Pandemic," featured operators that have pivoted during the pandemic; some had pivoted completely out of travel, while others had decided to target different tourism segments.

For example, Sunward Tours, a Port Canaveral, Fla.-based shore excursion provider, began offering small-group tours, such as a bioluminescence kayak experience, to local timeshare companies, a revenue stream it will continue to nurture once cruising returns and the pandemic ends.

At least two companies shifted to producing products directly related to the pandemic. Sitka, Ala.-based Allen Marine, a shipbuilder, tour provider and operator of Alaska Dream Cruises, capitalized on its experience cleaning and disinfecting its own fleet of vessels to produce and distribute a disinfectant called Aquaox that uses water, salt and electricity. Virgin Excursions, a St. Thomas-based port agent and provider of shore excursions and consultancy services to cruise lines, developed a partnership to market and sell Aegis, a microbial shield for surfaces already adopted by professional sports teams and hotel groups, and Glass-2 Thermal Detection Glasses, which can assess the temperature of up to 10 people per second.

And one operator in Mexico is doing all he can to try and keep his neighbors afloat. Trino Molina, managing director of the largest tour operator on the Yucatan peninsula and Cozumel, Aviomar Adventours, shifted many of his resources to a food bank he had co-founded years ago. According to Anderson, the food bank now provides services to over 25,000 people monthly in the region 

"We are trying to stay relevant and support the tour and port operators and bring forward different ideas and concepts and keep people engaged and keep their business able to bridge the gap until tourism returns," Anderson said.

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