Alas, things didn't go quite according to plan. By the middle of March we had temporarily vacated Wells Street, our team had decamped to their home offices, and the event was cancelled. What's more, after weeks of media coverage dominated by quarantined cruise ships and the suspension of international travel, some commentators were calling into question whether the cruise industry even has a future.
First of all, let's put that silly idea to bed - cruising is here to stay. We know from the many conversations we've had with our clients that regular cruisers are keen to get back on board as soon as they can. With future cruise credits ready to spend, and the prospect of discounted fares to come, we expect bookings to bounce back strongly. But it's also clear that stories such as the plight of the Diamond Princess have inflicted significant reputational damage on the industry, and it will be more challenging than ever to convince those who have never cruised before.
As always, the biggest players (and the biggest ships) cast a shadow over the rest of the industry, and it won't have escaped our readers' notice that the smaller ships featured on these pages have rarely been mentioned in the coronavirus media storm. Nevertheless, we can expect to see a renewed industry-wide focus on health and hygiene once this crisis is over, and it's likely that many of the enhanced health protocols introduced before the shutdown will remain in place.
Once operations resume, it's possible that we may see some ships operating with voluntarily reduced occupancy, itineraries that stay closer to home, and a reduction in the number of self-service food outlets. There will also inevitably be some disruption to new builds and refurbishment programmes. We have already seen a further delay to the first Ritz-Carlton yacht, now due in April 2021, and yards including the Fincantieri juggernaut have been forced to suspend operations, which means delays to other new ships are likely.
If this all sounds rather gloomy, then let us paint a more optimistic picture of the future of cruise. It is often the case that crises of this magnitude lead to innovation and renewal, and there is a palpable sense that we have an opportunity to make a fresh start once this is over. If we were to remake the cruise industry for a post-coronavirus world, what would it look like?
Actually, we think it would look a lot like the future of cruise that we were planning to talk about at our event. A new generation of ships carrying guests in the hundreds, rather than the thousands - ships like Emerald Azzurra, Crystal Endeavor and Silver Moon. A focus on new hybrid-powered ships, such as Hurtigruten's MS Roald Amundsen and MS Fridtjof Nansen, or Ponant's remarkable luxury icebreaker, Le Commandant Charcot. An industry-wide drive to install shoreside power at key ports, so that ships don't have to run their engines while alongside, and new measures to cut marine pollution.
Itineraries that take you to smaller, quieter ports that the big ships can't reach, with excursions focused on authentic local experiences. An industry that promotes health and wellness, whether it's Oceania's plant-based cuisine or spa-themed voyages on Seabourn. And an industry that invests in its staff and cultivates brand loyalty amongst its guests, as we see on board the likes of Hebridean and Windstar.
The future of cruise is still bright, even if it might seem a little further away right now.