Wybcke Meier has been the head of the Tui cruise subsidiary for six years. The joint venture with Royal Caribbean operates the “Mein Schiff” fleet. To the question What does Corona do with capitalism? we are also talking to a transformation researcher, a market liberal and a market critic.
If I wanted to go on a cruise tomorrow, what would you advise me to do?
I recommend you travel from Kiel or Hamburg, where you can go on Friday or Monday. Very nice panoramic trips on the North and Baltic Seas. We have adapted the concept of our ships to pandemic conditions. We drive with a maximum of 60 percent occupancy, all are accommodated in balcony cottages or apartments. If you want a little warmer, you can also travel the Mediterranean from Heraklion for a week.
Always at a sufficient distance, also on board?
“AHA”, this also applies on board. Anyway, we have a lot of space for the passenger, and even more at a lower load. We also hold Covid-19 tests before departure. The concepts of protection were revised in consultation with virologists and medical professionals.
After the first few trips, we can say: it works very well. When things tighten, guests wear their masks in a disciplined manner. And, of course, we are prepared for the case of Covid-19 infection, separate areas and specific cabins have been created for isolation, and fast disembarkation by medical partners is guaranteed.
Are the prices also higher because they take fewer passengers?
No, we left prices at the usual level. We have a lot of regular customers who quickly asked for trips again. We wanted to show them that sailing is possible even in these times.
Is it still worth it?
At the moment, this is not a return to the old profitability. We want to show that we can continue to offer trips. Not riding a boat is different from leaving a car in a garage. It is better to drive with less load than not.
Is there enough demand after the cruises were also heavily criticized?
Yes, there was a constant demand, especially from regular customers and cruise fans. We came from 100% utilization, then we didn’t even close and we wanted to use about 25 percent of our capacity in the last quarter of this year.
People want to travel, but we also feel insecure about the exact meaning of many travel warnings and tourist advice. We do a lot of information there. For next year, we currently have the same occupancy as last year.
How much did you get state support?
Since March, we have been using part-time work for our colleagues in Hamburg and Berlin. It was well organized and helped, because when there is a return to more demand and reservations, we need a labor force again quickly.
Are new ships being built despite the crisis?
Nothing changes in our plans. Since 2014, we have put the ship into operation every year. We have placed 24 and 26 new construction orders for 2023 and we are sticking to that. We do not believe in leaving the cruise. On the contrary, maybe in the future people will take fewer short trips and instead one or two longer trips.
No signs of burglary?
No, I don’t think so. In tourism, we come from a time of high growth, and this will certainly not continue in all segments. The holiday itself will continue to be of great importance. If you look at the number of cruise guests compared to holidaymakers, the cruise alone in 2019 was only 4%. We think that there is still a lot of room for improvement.
And what does Corona do with the economic system?
We will all experience a more conscious approach to all types of consumption. This is an opportunity for the tourism industry to give new meaning to factors that have not been previously addressed. Planned and organized trips could benefit from this.
What was the most missing part of your job during the lock?
I missed business trips on our ships and contact with the crew. Look at the horizon, the wind around my nose, I missed it.
Were the crew on the ships also working part-time?
No, most officers directly employed on board at TUI Cruises are also nautically and technically necessary on ships that are not currently in service. By the way, one of our biggest challenges when our ships stopped was to get the crew back home. From April to July 2020, we flew with our business partner Sea Chefs and left more than 3,000 crew members. In cooperation with embassies and consulates, we have enabled all nationalities to return home in the event of worldwide travel warnings.
How will working models change because of Corona?
With the ship’s crew, everything is the same as before, with other features such as an “infection control officer.” On land, we also found that mobile work worked fast. Part of it will remain. However, a personal meeting is not completely replaceable.