MSC Cruises‘ focus on testing rather than vaccinations will help it resume cruises in South Africa, while Norwegian Cruise Line’s current vaccine mandate is due to expire just before the new SA cruise season begins.
Several cruise lines have itineraries scheduled from Cape Town for the coming 2021/22 season, but low vaccinate uptake in the country, and divergence of vaccine policies between cruise lines, means cruising could be logistically difficult for passengers and cruise lines alike.
That’s on top of the fact that the South African government hasn’t even given permission for the 2021/22 cruise season to go ahead, a similar situation to the one the industry found itself in last year when it ultimately had to cancel its scheduled cruises from SA ports.
MSC Cruises is the largest player in the South African market, with two cruise ships due to cruise roundtrip from Cape Town and Durban between November, 2021 and March, 2022.
“We remain actively engaged with all the relevant government departments and we look forward to receiving go-ahead to restart soon,” Ross Volk, Managing Director of MSC Cruises South Africa, told Business Insider SA.
“We’ve seen that South Africans are eager to travel based on the strong advance trends,” he added. “This is also evidenced by the spike in guest demand as we’ve introduced exciting promotions with our early booking special offers.”
Cruise operations from South Africa remain on hold, however, as even the country’s most relaxed lockdown restrictions at Level 1 specifically prohibit “passenger ships for international leisure purposes“.
Norwegian Cruise Line is planning to join MSC in South Africa, with its ship Norwegian Jade scheduled to cruise from Dubai to Cape Town in December.
She’ll then sail three roundtrip cruises from the city during January, marking the first time the cruise line has ever homeported in Dubai.
AIDA Cruises also has roundtrip itineraries scheduled aboard Mein Schiff Herz, as does Azamara aboard Azamara Pursuit. While Azamara requires full vaccination for all guests older than 12, AIDA’s policy is more flexible.
Similarly, MSC Cruises has not made vaccination mandatory for its cruise ships.
“In the short to medium term MSC Cruises is prepared for the hybrid situation of safely transporting vaccinated and unvaccinated guests with the support of our rigorous universal testing procedures and other measures under our industry leading protocol,” said Volk.
“We believe that vaccination should co-exist with testing systems and other health and safety measures and should be seen as an advanced extension of responsible travel,” he added.
All passengers boarding the MSC Musica in November “will still have to have antigen swab tests prior to embarkation.” An extra layer of testing will apply to unvaccinated passengers, who will be required to undertake an RT-PCR COVID-19 test 72 hours before they arrive at the cruise terminal.
This potentially bodes well for the local South African market, in which vaccination rates remain low (just 5% of the population has received both doses of a vaccine).
However, this low vaccination rate could put the entire cruise season at risk, even if the South African government does allow cruises to resume. Cruise line homeporting in Cape Town rely in large part on international cruise tourists booking fly-cruise packages.
These fly-cruise itineraries won’t be able to go ahead if home markets, such as the US, UK and Europe continue to advice against travel to South Africa due to high COVID-19 rates, and those rates aren’t going to come down and allow safe international travel until the population is fully vaccinated.