Ratteray Pryse urges caution before resumption of cruise service
More steps must be taken before cruise ships can return to the island, attendees at the Bermuda Tourism Summit heard yesterday.
Aideen Ratteray Pryse, the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Health and former PS for the Ministry of Tourism, said measures must still be put in place to ensure safety from Covid-19 when the cruise industry is able to reopen.
Ms Ratteray Pryse said a no-sail order issued by the United States is set to expire on October 31, but the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has urged to extend it until February 2021.
She added that because cruise ship staff are now spread across the world, it could take cruise lines 30 to 60 days to get them back to work.
Speaking during a panel discussion on air and cruise travel, Ms Ratteray Pryse said Covid-19 safety matters are under active discussion between cruise operators and various governments.
She said: “What the cruise ships have done is they have worked with scientists and medical experts to figure out what the next steps would be for a reopening.”
Ms Ratteray Pryse said cruise lines have submitted a “healthy sail plan” with recommendations for the CDC, and the Bermuda Government has been in communication with them about the details and possible areas of improvement.
She said: “We are waiting for the CDC to review those recommendations.
“The impact for Bermuda is quite considerable. The loss to Bermuda in terms of economic impact by not having a cruise ship season this year is estimated to be $181 million, which in our economy is a lot of money.
“We are cautiously keen to restart, but there are issues and we have to be careful how we manage that.”
Ms Ratteray Pryse said one issue would be the increased pressure on the travel authorisation system.
She explained that while Bermuda is now regularly processing 700 applications on a daily basis, a cruise ship sailing at half-capacity could carry 3,000 people.
Ms Ratteray Pryse said: “We are looking at all these preflight test results, so just manning that is a challenge.
“How do we scale that up for a cruise ship? That’s a biggie.”
She added that there were also some concerns about the cruise ships’ proposed healthy sail plan.
Ms Ratteray Pryse said: “We need to figure out what happens when someone tests positive.
“We want that positive person taken care of and taken off the island. The word we are looking for is ʽrepatriation’, not ʽdisembarkation’.”
She praised the hard work of the health department for its tackling of the Covid-19 pandemic and its work balancing the need to keep the island safe and open for visitors.
Ms Ratteray Pryse was joined on the panel by Brad DiFiore, the managing director of air service consultancy firm Ailevon Pacific, and Nik Bhola, the general manager of Coral Beach Club.
Mr DiFiore said Bermuda’s air-visitor recovery has been similar to that of competing jurisdictions.
But he said but progress is expected to slow over the winter months, which are usually quieter for the island because competing jurisdictions reopen for visitors.
Mr DiFiore added: “The fact that it has grown at all is encouraging, but going into the winter it’s probably not going to improve a lot more.”
He said that the present focus was to bring Bermuda back to where it was before the pandemic by rebuilding the island’s strongest markets.
Mr DiFiore said: “We want to earn back the capacity we have lost. We have focused primarily on that.”
He added that the decision by British Airways to move Bermuda flights from Gatwick to Heathrow could make a significant difference in attracting visitors from markets in mainland Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
Mr DiFiore said: “It’s a game-changer. These British Airways flights have been half-full; there are always a bunch of seats in the back that are empty.
“We expect to see a lot more visitors from mainland Europe once the Heathrow service starts.”
Mr Bhola said Coral Beach has had success in organising charter flights to bring members to the island.
He said that other jurisdictions are going to be increasingly competitive as the tourism industry regrows, and that Bermuda must be ready to compete.
Mr Bhola said: “I don’t think we can rest on our laurels with the standard of service we are delivering and our training. There are things we cannot stop.”