ROME (AFP) – The first major cruise ship to set sail in the Mediterranean departed from Genoa yesterday, as Italy’s struggling travel industry hopes to regain ground after a bruising coronavirus hiatus.
The departure of the MSC Grandiosa from the northwestern port city represents a high-stakes test for the global sector in the key Mediterranean market and beyond.
The international cruise industry has been battered not only by the ongoing health crisis which in March forced the worldwide grounding of its ships, but accusations of a botched handling of the epidemic in its early stages.
Cruise lines are hoping that tighter protocols will allow them to control the still-lingering threat of coronavirus aboard its ships while offering travellers a cruise experience that does not disappoint.
The Grandiosa is part of the fleet of privately-owned MSC Cruises, founded in Naples but now based in Geneva. The ship will travel to the ports of Civitavecchia near Rome, Naples, Palermo and Valletta, Malta during the seven-day cruise.
Competitor Costa Cruises, owned by Carnival, has opted to delay the restart of its Mediterranean cruises until September, with departures from Trieste and Genoa for Italian-only clients. The company said the measure was designed to “guarantee the maximum security for guests, crew and local communities.”
Much is riding on the decision to restart cruises. Italy represents the bulk of Europe’s cruise industry, reaping 14.5 billion euros of revenue per year (USD17 billion) and supporting nearly 53,000 jobs, according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).
The group estimated a potential economic loss from suspended cruises throughout Europe could amount to about EUR25.5 billion.
Last week, Italy’s government, which is striving to revive the country’s moribund economy after an over two-month lockdown, gave cruise operators the green light to begin operating again as of August 15.