Yet here we are, emerging from a January of seemingly unprecedented gloom. The coronavirus outbreak in China has the world on edge, the Australian bush is still burning, and we all nervously await the next move in Donald Trump's high stakes confrontation with Iran. Added to this, in the UK we have the lingering uncertainty around Brexit; while December's election may have finally settled the argument on whether we will leave the EU, the 'how' looks set to dominate political debate for a good while yet.
Natural disasters, pandemics and geopolitical instability inevitably have a knock-on effect on the travel industry, and we've had plenty of phone calls lately from clients feeling nervous about their imminent travel plans. But while it may seem like we are living through an era of unprecedented turmoil, it's worth pausing to consider whether, in fact, 'twas ever thus…
In the cruise industry we are used to 'unprecedented' events, and to itineraries being disrupted. Our product encompasses just about every destination on the planet that can be accessed by ocean or river; this global reach is a huge advantage for the curious traveller, but it also means that any new crisis is likely to have an impact on at least some of our clients. So how do we respond?
One of the great things about cruising is that itineraries are not set in stone, and a ship can be quickly repositioned and rerouted away from a trouble spot. We are seeing this currently with China, and we've seen it in recent years following hurricanes in the Caribbean, unrest in the Middle East and even an outbreak of plague in Madagascar in 2017.
Last year we saw Donald Trump (that man again!) bring an abrupt end to the nascent boom in cruise tourism to Cuba, as new sanctions meant US-based cruise lines had to cancel their calls on the island. Many Cubans will no doubt be hoping for a change of administration and a change of policy after this year's presidential election; while we at Mundy are powerless to influence US politics, we can at least point out that there are still a few European cruise lines visiting Cuba, such as Sea Cloud and Fred Olsen.
In 2014 the uprising in Ukraine was followed by the Russian annexation of Crimea; as tensions ramped up on the northern shores of the Black Sea, we saw Turkey becoming drawn into the Syrian conflict to the south, and Istanbul was rocked by terrorist attacks. Cruise lines pulled out of the Black Sea en masse, and Eastern Mediterranean itineraries were rerouted away from Istanbul. But things change, the heat goes out of these situations, and the cruise lines come back; that is exactly what we are now seeing, as more and more ships return to Istanbul and the Black Sea over the next couple of years.
It's easy to forget that as recently as 2011, we were still selling cruises to Syria and Libya. In the January 2011 edition of Cruise News, Edwina reported back from a recent trip that took her to Palmyra and Aleppo. While any return to normality in those conflict-racked countries is a long way off, we have seen French cruise line Ponant recently announce new itineraries calling at Beirut, another city that has been off the cruising map for a while.
The advice that we always give our clients, regardless of whether you're travelling to a known hotspot, is to always make sure you have travel insurance. For those who travel frequently, an annual multi-trip policy is usually the best option. Travel insurance isn't just to cover your holiday, it's also to cover the lead-up to your holiday, so it's essential to ensure you have a policy in place from the moment you book.
If you're worried about the destination you're visiting then you can of course keep your eye on the news, check the current travel advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and keep in touch with your Mundy cruise consultant. If your destination is currently considered safe to travel then you will normally incur charges if you cancel your booking; if a destination is placed on the 'do not travel' list, however, the cruise line is likely to amend your itinerary, and you may be able to cancel or re-book free of charge. You should also be aware that many travel insurance policies will not cover you if you visit a country where the FCO advises against all travel.
Last but not least, don't forget that all Mundy Cruising clients have access to our 'Mayday from Mundy' service, a 24-hour emergency number that you can call in the unlikely event that something goes wrong during your holiday.