Inchcape Shipping Services’ new Centre of Cruise Excellence (CoCE), based in Mumbai, is to be launched in the first quarter of 2021, the company has confirmed. The CoCE will publish weekly intelligence reports, including security, health and travel warnings, political reviews and port and marine updates. In addition, it will also offer itinerary management, crew logistics, cost control, feasibility, clearance, risk assessment and planning services, as well as hull survey and inspection and a service measuring the quality and quantity of bunkering for cruise ships.
Overall direction of the CoCE will fall to Dubai-based Grant Holmes, global sector head, cruise industry, who joined Inchcape Shipping Services in 2014, tasked with developing a comprehensive cruise strategy to take advantage of the company’s global port agency network. He brought with him a wealth of international experience and now spearheads Inchcape’s global Cruise Solutions team, overseeing around 9,000 cruise calls per year, far higher than at the point he joined.
The regional cruise sector has clearly taken a big hit as a result of the pandemic. Nonetheless, Holmes is upbeat about prospects for the cruise business in the Middle East and Subcontinent and suggests that “recovery is just a question of timing”. He adds, “I am optimistic for the future, especially for 2022 when we are likely to see a full recovery. There are plenty of cruise fans out there who can’t wait to get back on a ship. The key thing for our industry is to come back and get things right from the outset in regards to health management, operational efficiency and sustainability. Inchcape will be there all the way.”
One of the reasons given by Holmes for setting up the CoCE is to build a high quality disbursement accounting (DA) system. He says, “Inchcape has streamlined the cruise DA process to make life easier for cruise lines, which are somewhat nuanced in their accounting processes. Inchcape’s approach is to apply the most efficient model possible for each respective cruise line regardless of size. We have trained our people accordingly, so they understand each line’s invoicing, how to manage discrepancies and to ensure swift payment and cash flow.”
Building on its established crew logistics expertise, the new Inchcape Cruise Crew Desk provides a round-the-clock service for logistics and support with a single point of contact. The aim is to carry out 60,000 crew transfers in the first year of operation. Holmes says, “Covid-19 emphasised the need for immediate crew repatriation, which can be complex and involve multiple agents. Cruise lines with fewer people in the office may no longer have the resources to handle this. If it happens again, Inchcape can provide everything they need at global scale.”
Holmes believes that despite the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, ISS can support cruise lines and destinations going forward, drawing on experience gained over the past year. “It is a fact that 2019 was one of the best years ever for cruise and 2020 was widely projected to be even better,” says Holmes. “Then came Covid-19 and by mid-March the pandemic had paralysed the sector. Inchcape Shipping Services stepped up to repatriate passengers and help with technical calls.”
Once passengers were safely home, Inchcape started crew repatriation, working closely with cruise lines and port authorities, subsequently exploring possibilities for economical layup and anchorage on a global scale.
Most cruise lines are not planning to restart services until spring at the earliest given global health concerns, and probably 2022 on any significant scale. Holmes says, “Cruise lines will need to pilot Covid-19 protocols to generate confidence, while for destinations, the priority used to be security, but is now moving to health threats. Those places dependent on cruise tourism will have to build trust through strict protection measures and protocols must be in place both for port operations and excursions, including attraction sites and transportation means.”
He reveals that the Vanilla Islands Indian Ocean region has asked Inchcape to develop a system of health management that can be applied to whatever potential cruising health threats emerge in future. Ship audits are also considered to be an essential element to maintain optimum preparedness.
Holmes believes consumer trust will return reasonably quickly, although 2021 will be a transitional year. He adds, “No one wanted Covid-19, but as with every crisis there is an opportunity. As an industry, cruise needs to seize it. The industry needs to reinvent itself, initially focused more on the allure of the sea, nature ashore in wide-open spaces, on-board offerings and private islands. We will continue to help emerging destinations with operational compliance and advancing sustainable solutions in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Central America, the Caribbean, Africa and elsewhere.”
Inchcape is focussed on proactively developing a number of initiatives to support the industry, covering four key areas – sustainable cruise tourism development, holistic itinerary management, crew logistics and business intelligence. Holmes believes this is a great formula. “We have become the go-to company for anything out-of-the-ordinary and emerging markets, where I believe sustainable cruising has a promising future. We are literally developing new cruise markets for the first time in Africa, the Middle East and India, and then serving them.”