The tourism industry is now cringing over what appears as a second wave of COVID-19. Here in Greece, retailers and many hoteliers have more or less written off 2020, and some have already gone bankrupt. Experts, corporate and otherwise, are still focused on reestablishing pre-pandemic models for profit. TUI, the world’s biggest tour company is leading the way with a “business as usual” approach that is doomed to fail.
I was scanning LinkedIn a few moments ago when I ran across a post by Marcus Puttich, who is TUI’s Head of Port & Ground Operations announcing the return to service of the Mein Schiff 2. The news would have been okay if not for the PR spin TUI chose to layer on top of it. TUI chose to proclaim their cruise news as “sending out a strong signal to the cruise and tourism industry.” But, the signal the corporate giant is sending is not the one intended.
Mein Schiff 2 set sail for a three-day trip on the North Sea from Hamburg, Germany with 1,200 passengers aboard. The tour company is operating with limited capacities and some COVID measures like social distancing in place, but reading the report from USA Today, the whole cruise redux sounds more like a cruise experiment rather a foolproof safe passage. From what I can glean from TUI and online resources, passengers on these so-called “Blue Cruise” to nowhere are not even required to have COVID-19 testing before the journey. They are only required to fill out a questionnaire.
Finally at sea 🚢 – With 1200 passengers our “Mein Schiff 2” is leaving #Hamburg tonight. The first 3-nights-voyage across the North Sea to Norway consists exclusively of sea days. We are well prepared with highest #hygiene and #safety measures on board. pic.twitter.com/DCQLAChZq7— TUI Group (@TUIGroup) July 24, 2020
News recently that two competitor cruise ships belonging to AIDA in Rostock having ten members of the crews tested positive for the coronavirus. And to make matters worse, rumors that Mein Schiff 1 cruises were postponed over crew members testing positive have created a PR nightmare for TUI because the company reportedly denied them at first. Cruise News reported TUI claiming the Mein Schiff 1 cruise cancellation was over difficulty crewing the vessel, but the media outlet dug up two crewmembers who said the “real” reason was that seven crew members tested positive for COVID-19.
The “message” TUI has sent is one of desperation and corporate callousness for me. Profit at any cost resonates when an industry most susceptible to a viral catastrophe acts irresponsibly. Cruises! Really? Let’s be real here. The re-start of Mien Schiff company is about testing a Royal Caribbean joint venture with TUI of Germany which manages the Mein Schiff ships. For me, the company is also conducting an experiment into whether or not the industry’s assemblage of COVID experts called the “Healthy Sail Panel” can assist in refloating safe cruising.
Let me be crystal clear here. TUI and these other companies are not only acting irresponsibly in my view, but they are also going overboard (pun intended) to convince people that cruising is safer pandemic wise than visiting city destinations. The media campaign on this Mein Schiff 2 sailing seems fairly massive by PR industry standards. In a perfect world, where cruise lines issued space suits and vaccines to passengers, maybe luxurious cruise ships out to sea would be ideal. Now it seems TUI does not even seem to be able to accurately test their own crew.
On the PR and hype side of things, Jim Walker at Cruise News quotes Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner back-peddling on his earlier claims cruising is “an awful risk” considering the contagiousness of the coronavirus. This was when the good doctor was a paid public servant, but now that he’s been called in as a paid expert for the cruise lines on Royal Caribbean’s Healthy Sail Panel, he says he thinks “taking a cruise potentially be a safer way to vacation in a COVID environment than going to London.”
The PR charade continues in the in-depth reporting at Cruise News and elsewhere. He brings to light Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain suggesting that wearing masks on board is a “dumb idea,” and ethics lawyers calling the cruise ships “monsters at sea.” A Tweet from James (Jim) Walker, a maritime lawyer and the editor of Cruise Law News predicts the future for TUI and other corporations running these ships.
Monsters at seas – how greed is catching up with the #cruise lines and sinking the industry . . . https://t.co/GZwogId0vW— James (Jim) Walker (@CruiseLaw) July 25, 2020
It’s business as usual, just like I said. These people are unscrupulous, when you come right down to it. The need to get profit for investors is now an acute short-term illness that will end up being a sustainability and business catastrophe for these corporations and the people they serve. It seems like there’s no one in Germany or anywhere who can think and act beyond the nagging demand for immediate profits.
Why they cannot even read Deutsche Welle, where the WHO is reporting the highest daily increases of COVID-19 ever. TUI’s executives must be either blind, stupid, or criminally negligent if these new cases are not of concern. The state premier of Germany’s Saxony province says the second wave of infections has already hit the country.
Well TUI, we certainly got your message. But for my readers, here is the gist from TUI CEO Fritz Joussen via Twitter:
Interview with @rponline: #TUI CEO Fritz Joussen about intensive #hygiene and #safety preparations for the departure of “Mein Schiff 2” 🚢 yesterday. 1200 happy guests are on board. https://t.co/lj4GPKvO5A#Holiday2020 #Cruises pic.twitter.com/4qpZzsZwbm— TUI Group (@TUIGroup) July 25, 2020
Money. Profit. We get it.