I tell anyone who will listen to me: On a cruise, you can be with all these people, or you can be by yourself. You can find tranquility, you can find party, you can find new friends. I’m a cruise convert.

– Guy Fieri, American restaurateur and author

The heading may make some readers recoil, particularly those who could recall reports of cruise ships with passengers on board infected with Covid-19 and had to continue sailing as countries one after another turned them away from docking at their ports.

Even for cruise ships already berthed or anchored, passengers were stranded within the vessel when they were not allowed to disembark. For example, the Diamond Princess was quarantined off the coast of Japan for nearly a month.

By the time disembarkation was finally granted, 696 of the 3,711 persons on board were infected by the coronavirus. This was because passengers and crew members moved freely between the green zone, which was supposedly infection-free, and the virus-hit red zone.

Virtually overnight, cruise ships were transformed from floating palaces into prisons with many passengers vowing never to join cruises again, as another coronavirus outbreak could occur anytime in the future.

But just like many other things, such as automobiles that have offered convenience to billions and killed millions, cruises are also double-edged swords. They lock in passengers and lock out others, and this can be a good or bad thing.

Bad if passengers on board are infected by one or more communicable diseases and a ship can be the worst place to be compared to others roaming freely on terra firma. However, if a country or city is under lockdown, a state-of-the-art cruise ship can be paradise on earth.

The largest cruise ships weigh more than 200,000 gross tonnage, over 360 metres long and 60 metres wide, and can house up to 6,600 people. It is virtually a floating city with many hotels, restaurants, shops, cinemas, entertainment spots, swimming pools and amusement parks. With hindsight, cruise ship operators will drastically change the way passengers and supplies are taken on board, and how shore excursions for passengers and crew will be conducted. There will be effective security protocols, ventilation systems and infection control measures.

Cruise operators will be collaborating with hotels at home port cities where passengers must spend at least a night before sailing, so that they could be fully tested for communicable diseases, including Covid-19, and luggage disinfected before boarding.

Embarking on a cruise ship will no longer be like getting into a train. The protocol will take more time than checking in for a flight. Passengers are likely to be quarantined at selected hotels the day before and transferred to the port in disinfected tour buses.

But once on board the ship, they are allowed to mix freely with other passengers and crew, as all have been tested and cleared of any communicable disease. If so, cruise ships would be among the safest places in the world to be.

On the other hand, travelling with many passengers in an aircraft, train or bus can be risky should there be a known or unknown coronavirus outbreak in some parts of the world. Likewise, guests are also exposed when staying in popular hotels or dining in crowded restaurants.

The future modus operandi of cruises may be like apartheid, but such segregation of people will not be based on race but on the presence or absence of communicable diseases. It may not have been the required practice earlier but will become a new world order.

Unfortunately, cruise tourism does not bring much benefit to a country and its people, as most of the time and money are spent on board a ship sailing the high seas. Some passengers may disembark for shore excursion at ports of call, mainly for sightseeing and souvenir shopping.

But excursionists do not add to the foreign tourist arrival figures that exclude day trippers. The number signing up for shore excursions will be less in future when rules are tightened, such as having to wear face masks and souvenirs must be disinfected before bringing them on board.

When selling cruises, travel agents will be proclaiming that passengers on board will receive the highest standard of hygiene and safety. Cruise ship operators are much more in control than theme parks that can only survive by attracting large diverse crowds from all over the region.

Cruises would also be grabbing a bigger share of the convention business from hotels already suffering from unfair competition by unlicensed accommodation. There is also great potential for entire cruise ships to be chartered for Islamic cruises under strict boarding protocol.

While many other tourism sectors will remain gloomy, the stars will be shining brightly on cruises.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.