Johanna Jainchill
Johanna Jainchill

As cruise lines slowly ramp up service in Europe and get closer to resuming service in the rest of the world, much has been made about what is probably the protocol that most changes the traditional cruise experience: passengers only being allowed off the ships on closely controlled tours sanctioned and sold by the cruise line.

So far, the limited experience the large ship lines MSC and Costa are having in Europe tell them that passengers are increasingly comfortable with this and understand it makes them safer.

But for the expedition and adventure segment of the market, where the destination is what motivates people to sail, the off-ship experience will also be different, said speakers at the Seatrade Cruise virtual conference last week.

And while itineraries to the most remote parts of the world may offer safety to travelers, they can be a threat to the wildlife and indigenous communities they visit.

As a result, expedition brands have said that as long as there is a pandemic, remote encounters and experiences will be much more limited in order to protect those groups from the Covid-19 virus.

Hans Lagerweij, president of Albatros Expeditions, said that Inuit populations are the "most vulnerable in the world."

Absent a vaccine, "We probably need to avoid the smallest communities," he said, adding that people will still be able to visit the bigger towns in places like Greenland, with guidelines like social distancing.

"Unfortunately, it probably means there will be hardly any interaction with the locals," he said.

Alana Bradley-Swan, director of product for Adventure Canada, said that as of now, visiting indigenous communities will not be part of the company's 2021 itineraries, unless "the world has changed by then."

Wildlife is also susceptible. Penguins, for example, may be vulnerable to Covid-19 infection and must be protected on Antarctica cruises, said Robin West, vice president of expedition operations for Seabourn.

"If wildlife approaches you out of curiosity, you are going to have to actively move away to protect them," he said.

It's not just the most remote communities that are concerned. Skagway, Alaska, mayor Andrew Cremata said locals are worried cruisers may bring the virus to the popular cruise port, which has so far had no cases and has no hospital. However, Cremata said the town built a quarantine facility to isolate anyone who does contract the virus.  

"We have to take a proactive role," Cremata said. "Our plan is to be 100% ready."

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