By Elliot McKernon 

Is life about the destination, or the journey? Does one even need a destination? Two cruise lines in Singapore are saying ‘No’. Since September, the companies are offering Singapore residents “cruises to nowhere”.  This isn’t a change in the philosophical mindset of those organising the prestigious luxury cruises, but rather a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The offer is part of a pilot scheme that features enhanced safety protocols, as well as mandatory testing of both crew and passengers to prevent the spread of the virus. 

It’s easy to be cynical about this kind of offer. If a cruise to nowhere is so good, why wasn’t it on offer before? But it’s important to recognise that these are companies employing thousands of people, trying their best to stay afloat, as it were. And with everyone getting bored of being restricted, a short break on a floating hotel sounds like fun. 

Cruises and COVID Quarantines

The companies are mindful of the scandals involving coronavirus on cruise ships when the pandemic started. The confined to cabin lifestyle brought on an early instance of the extreme measures that we’ve now come to view as normal as governments around the world restrict our movements. Dream Cruises manages one of the ships offering the new circular routes: its boat, World Dream is 335 metres long, employs 2,000 staff, and can accommodate 3,376 passengers. It was specifically designed for the Asian cruise market and features many restaurants, specially designed cabins, and even a casino. However, In late January 2020. three passengers aboard the ship were confirmed to have been infected with COVID-19

In response, all 3,800 passengers and crew were placed under quarantine on board the ship, which was forced to remain at Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Cruise Terminal after Taiwan blocked its port of call in Kaohsiung. By the 9th of February, all 1,800 crew had tested negative for the virus, while most passengers had had no contact with the infection, but still, they were not allowed off the ship. On the 26th, the Indonesian government intervened and evacuated 188 citizens using a hospital ship.

After such a fiasco, you can get why the cruise line might be willing to invest in advanced measures to prevent infection aboard their vessels. And why the public might be wary of cruise ships that aren’t taking such precautions. They don’t want to become floating hospitals!

Similarly, the bizarrely named Quantum of the Seas, a vessel operated by the Royal Caribbean, is offering nowhere-bound round trips in December. The cruiser will be outfitted with fancy heating, ventilation, and air conditioning to keep the air clean and safe. The company even goes as far as offering passengers a free cruise if any of their travel party test positive for COVID-19 during the weeks leading up to their booking. They also promise refunds if guests test positive during the cruise itself.  

Local Tourism and Changing Business

It isn’t just the cruise line companies that are enthusiastic about luring people back on the sea: the government eager to encourage safe local tourism, announced the cruise plans through a Singapore Tourism Board press release on the 8th of October. They’re implementing a mandatory CruiseSafe certification programme and setting out stringent hygiene and safety measures. For example, the cruises must be round-trips, with no ports of call, and their capacity is capped at 50%, open only to Singapore residents. 

It’s undoubtedly funny to consider vast luxury vessels with names like World Dream and Quantum of the Seas embarking on voyages in which the destination of its thousands of wealthy passengers is identical to the place of its launch. But as unemployment rises due to COVID-19, it’s important to remember that the cruise lines employ tens of thousands of staff between them, and local economies the world over rely on tourism. 

Many businesses across the globe have drastically changed their products and services, as well as how they operate, in response to the virus. Playmobil have converted their injection moulding machines to produce masks. Secret London Runs, which ordinarily provides guided running tours of London, have filmed a virtual 5k running tour about an 18th-century gin craze. An 84-year-old Italian grandmother who used to run pasta-making workshops in the countryside north of Rome has cancelled all her classes and moved to online masterclasses

At the moment, change is the norm, and we shouldn’t be surprised when businesses that rely on tourism and publicity react in unusual ways. It’s cliche, but alongside social distancing and following lockdown measures, supporting your local businesses is a great way to reduce some of the effects of the coronavirus and maybe save a company. So if you are in Singapore, why not take a float-cation and book a cruise to nowhere, you might just have some fun!