The changing tide of COVID-19 has left MSC South Africa with the unenviable task of trying to ensure the local cruise season takes place. We have recently deployed our comprehensive health and safety protocol that has been developed to support the restart of operations.
At the moment, we are still committed to the December itineraries with the two reconfirmed ships, MSC Orchestra and MSC Opera, should government regulation allow. MSC Cruises South Africa has been engaging at the highest level with the departments of health, transport, tourism and all other relevant authorities to make sure that all protocols are in place with government’s regulations and directives.
Even if international borders remain closed when our ships are due to embark on the next season of local cruising (2020/21), we have a valid argument to state our case to the local government in going ahead with the cruises. While we would theoretically cross international borders, we believe there is a strong argument to allow this.
The rationale behind this is twofold. Firstly, operating cruises to the islands of Mozambique would constitute regional travel and not international. Secondly, the islands would be an ideal cruising destination in the time of COVID-19 because they are remote, easily quarantinable and there isn’t a constant flow of people in these areas. This would allow passengers and crew to disembark in a bubble and not be unduly exposed to any outside risks.
We are continuing our discussions around these considerations with the relevant authorities both within South Africa and Mozambique and seek a successful outcome.
If worst comes to worst, we are ready to change our itineraries to allow for SA to SA cruising. We could possibly operate cruises out of Cape Town to Mossel Bay and Knysna and then back to Cape Town as an example, or out of Durban to PE and back to Durban.
We’re considering the option of introducing excursions in SA if we are eventually only allowed to operate inside the country. This has proved successful internationally, where guests aren’t allowed to get off the vessel unless it is on an MSC-sanctioned excursion. This has been done to ensure that the strictest protocols are observed and our guests are safe and secure.
What would greatly improve the success of our cruises is the allowing of inter-provincial travel in South Africa. Almost all our guests (99%) are South African residents (this includes any foreign nationals based in South Africa) but only 15-20% of them are in KZN. The bulk come from other provinces like Gauteng and the Highveld. Inter-provincial travel needs to be opened up because without it, we wouldn’t have the critical mass we need to operate. In addition, the prohibition on mass gatherings would need to be reviewed in line with our health and safety protocols to allow embarkation and disembarkation of guests.
As MD of MSC Cruises South Africa, Ross Volk is responsible for growing the cruising market in South Africa. Ross joined MSC Cruises South Africa in 2015 as the company’s chief financial officer, following a varied and successful auditing career at KPMG. His 12 years at KPMG instilled in him a love for travel, visiting over 75 countries while working as a senior manager for the company. He strongly believes in leading by example and is committed to working alongside his colleagues to ensure that cruising becomes a popular holiday ‘destination’ that South Africans love. Ross speaks three languages – English, Afrikaans and Zulu.