It’s the question that’s been occupying us all: What will life be like after Corona? Will we ever be able to go to a movie again? Or visit an art gallery? The cultural industries are scrambling to find new, safer ways to allow people to enjoy art and mantain social distancing, which will become our new normal.
Here at Cultural Cruises Europe we’ve also been hard at work envisioning how our tours will work once travel restrictions are lifted. While we don’t know exactly what the future will bring, we do know that the priority is the wellbeing of our travelers. That’s why we’ve been working alongside our captains, tour leaders, chefs and travel experts to develop extra safety precautions for our future trips. What will this future look like? We’ve spoken to three of the people involved:
Walter Berkum builds and designs ships. He is also the owner of Magnifique II, Magnifique III and the new Magnifique IV. Tom Stout has been working as a tour guide for many years and is enthusiastic about his work and taking care of our guests. And Laurens Winkel is the managing director of Boat Bike Tours and Cultural Cruises Europe.
“There’s no question that the safety of our guests always comes first and we do not compromise on this issue,” Laurens emphasizes. “That’s why we’re currently equipping our ships to meet all new safety standards.”
“I believe that the guests must gradually regain confidence,” says Tom. He knows this from his experience as a tour guide: “Even under ‘normal’ conditions, it can be challenging to travel to another country where you’re not so familiar with the customs and traditions. In the current crisis, it’s even more difficult to trust others with your safety. That’s why it’s up to us to provide that security.”
Thinking in terms of possibilities
“We always think in terms of solutions and possibilities.,” says Walter, who, like many other captains, is a rather pragmatic type. “Of course we’ve always worked very hygienically. And our boats are designed for travel in small groups with high safety standards. But we want to do even more. For example, we can serve dinner in two shifts so that fewer people are at the table at once. And we no longer offer buffets either.”
Just like all other shipowners and skippers, Walter was already fully prepared to receive the first guests. “We had already prepared everything down to the last detail. Even our newest ship, the Magnifique IV, was finished 6 weeks earlier than planned. The only thing still left to do was christening the ship – we’d planned a wonderful party that we had to cancel! But we’ll still do it with a small group. I know of only a few ships that haven’t been christened, like the Titanic for example. We all know how that ended!
Although everything turned out so differently than planned, Walter remains optimistic. “”Fortunately, me and the people around me are all healthy. But unfortunately I haven’t been able to offer a contract to a large number of my seasonal staff, who would usually be working on board the Magnifique II, Magnifique III and Magnifique IV. As long as I have no income, I can’t employ anyone. But I have hopes for the future. It will be different, but not necessarily worse. Maybe something good will even come out of all of this in the end.” Laurens is also optimistic: “It’s never a bad thing to be forced to go back to the drawing board. It’s been heartwarming to see how our team has pulled together to come up with ways to make our tours even safer.”
Creativity at home
For Tom this period is also very strange. Usually at this time of year he’s on the road non-stop, taking his guests to beautiful places like the tulip garden Keukenhof. “And now I’ve been home all this time. That feels very weird, and I hope it doesn’t go on much longer! Not only because I like to go out with people, but also because I don’t get any income when I’m stuck at home. But it does make you creative; since the lockdown I’ve been developing my website and mapping out interesting new routes to take guests on as soon as we’re able to travel together again.”
Adapting to the new normal
Walter believes that tour operators don’t have to change their trips completely. “It will take some getting used to when you come back on board after an excursion and are welcomed with not only by a a bowl of sweets and a drink, but also with disinfectant spray for your hands. But if the guests, the skipper and the crew pull together, everyone can have a great time. Tom adds: “We’ll have to change the way we travel, but the spirit of the tours will stay the same. Together we’ll make it a special experience, and the safety precautions will give extra peace of mind.”
A breath of fresh air
For people who are currently in doubt about whether they should go on a trip when the travel restrictions are lifted, Laurens says: “Your wellbeing is most important. If you feel you can’t travel far then postpone your trip and just take a relaxing local holiday, or even a staycation at home. But when you’re feeling fit again, don’t hesitate to come on a trip. We take your safety very seriously, and are doing everything we can to make sure you can sail with peace of mind.” Walter is more forthright: “No, don’t doubt! Let’s go outside! We will have been inside long enough.”