How Will Cruise Product Managers Reclaim The Seas?

What needs to be done to get cruise customers to return?
What needs to be done to get cruise customers to return?
Image Credit: Mish Mish

It’s not cheap to take a cruise. That’s why being a cruise line product manager can be a very good job. However, the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic literally shut down the cruise industry – the boats didn’t leave port for over a year. Now that they have once again been granted permission to sail, how are their product managers going to go about finding ways to get their customers to come back and travel the high seas with them?

Making Cruising Safe

Cruise product managers are starting to become happy once again. The reason is because after a long time in the age of Covid-19, cruise lines are increasingly beginning to sail again. The 2022 itineraries on Viking Ocean Cruises are almost fully booked which shows that there is pent up demand. Clearly passengers are willing to climb aboard. The question that product managers will now have to answer is: is it safe to cruise now? Public perception that cruising is safe significantly increased in recent months according to a survey by a travel marketing firm. The grim images of giant virus-riddled ship marooned off shore have been fading – at least until when coronavirus infections were identified aboard a cruise ship sailing out of Galveston, Texas.

Product managers know that the cruise model does give them a chance to control the environment more than other sectors of hospitality. Product managers want everyone to know that there have been low incidences of Covid since sailings resumed. Only 27 positive Covid-19 cases have been identified among the estimated 1.6 million passengers who have sailed in 2021. Covid-19 cases among crew members are much harder to track. However, it appears as though the cruise lines’ new safety protocols appear to be working.

After Covid outbreaks were reported on dozens of cruise ships, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a “no-sail” order, banning most passenger vessels from sailing in U.S. waters. The order was lifted and replaced with a set of rules that ships had to comply with before they were allowed to resume their voyages. Even with these precautions in place, CDC officials say cruising is not a zero-risk activity and that non-vaccinated people should avoid all cruises. The CDC also recommends that vaccinated people should get tested before boarding a ship and that anyone with a serious illness or an increased risk of serious illness should not cruise at all. The agency has also established a Covid-19 color-coding system that tracks ships sailing in U.S. waters, operating under health and safety protocols that align with the agency’s standards.

Product managers have to make sure that their potential passengers understand that there are clear risks involved in cruising. The key is that the risk is stratified by vaccinated people versus unvaccinated people. The unvaccinated are clearly at much higher risk of contracting and then spreading the virus. Even in the before pandemic times, cruise ships were subject to biannual CDC inspections. Now, under strict pandemic scrutiny from the CDC, the industry will be even more highly regulated – from below-deck waste management systems to guest-facing food service protocols – and required to make regular health and safety reports to the CDC. Product managers have had time to identify vulnerabilities, overhaul internal weaknesses, retrain staff, arm themselves against new eventualities and form advisory boards. Some product managers undertook all-volunteer test cruises to put all the upgrades and protocols through their paces.

Making Cruising Popular Again

Product managers believe that this very difficult time has provided them with an opportunity to demonstrate that ships are extremely safe. They want their potential passengers to know that they have hospitals on board, very well trained personnel, and that they need to produce reports of anything that happens on board which helps to make it well managed. They will not allow the virus to get out of control. They can stop it at the beginning.

As they resume sailing, most cruises are operating at reduced capacity in order to give people more room in common spaces like bars and theaters on board and to work within local guidelines in port. Product managers know that taking into account vaccination rates among passengers and mask-wearing protocols, density matters more than the size of the boat. Product managers also realize that the nature of activities has to be considered. Outside activities are generally fine. There will be higher risks in a gym with lots of people. Product managers realize that a three-day party at sea with gambling, dancing and drinking is different than going whale-watching.

Making sure that the ships are well ventilated is something that product managers have to be able to assure their customer of. An open bar, state-of-the-art water toys, and a fancy steakhouse are all expected on any cruise. However, onboard amenities now also include hospital-grade disinfectants, new fresh-air ventilation systems and robots that clean at night using UV light. Many cruise lines are using bipolar ionization technology for their HVAC systems, which generates positively and negatively charged ions to reduce contaminants and pollutants in the air. Sales of interior cabins are down, and some lines use them as isolation rooms, if needed.

What All Of This Means For You

Cruise product managers had a hard time during the pandemic. Their product consists of having a large group of people get together in an enclosed space. That product was taken off of the market during the pandemic. Now that the pandemic is starting to fade in everyone’s memory, these product managers have a real challenge on their hands: they have to make people want to go cruising again. There are some significant safety concerns that everyone has. How will these product managers make cruising popular once again?

The key to getting people to be willing to go on a cruise is going to be to make sure that the public’s perception of cruising is that it is safe. This means that there can’t be any news stories about stranded ships with lots of sick people on them. Product managers do have the ability to control the environment on board a ship. The goal will be to get vaccinated people to cruise and get unvaccinated people to stay home. The CDC will be keeping a close eye on the cruise industry. Cruise lines will operate at reduced capacity in order to allow people to have more distance between themselves. Product managers will also make sure that ships are well ventilated and cleaned every night.

Let’s face it: people like to go on cruises. Yes, the pandemic put a stop to this popular pastime. However, the cruise product managers should be able to see a rebound in the demand for their product. However, in order to make sure that they get the people who want to go cruising to commit, they are going to have to advertise that their boats are safe and well maintained. If they can do this, then they should be sailing off in no time.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: How can cruise product managers show that their product is safe?

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