When you are looking for weak signals about the toughness of economic times look to see how business keeps the revenues flowing. I just returned from a floating city holiday aka a cruise. The travel industry has been hit in so many ways from terrorist threats, biological invasions and economic down cycles it is interesting to observe how it is surviving. Holland America with whom I cruised along the Mexican Riviera over Christmas demonstrates coping strategies in all three areas.

First off these days you have to go through a security check to enter the cruise check in area — very similar to the airport protocols. (So you have to be willing to endure both airport and seaport security probes 🙁 before you can even start your cruise.)

Much to our surprise on the first two days of the cruise we were not allowed to serve ourselves in the cafeteria. Since the last cruise we took, a passenger “cleansing process” lasts for two days with prominent education about hand washing at every entrance to an eating area. Passengers are reminded in all washrooms (including their cabins) to wash their hands frequently to reduce germs – from bacteria and viruses. Even post washing they are offered  hand cleansing alcoholic gels after they have touched door knobs, hand rails and before they enter dining rooms.

As for the economic cycles, I was impressed to observe that the cruise line has been able to continue its enticing offers of low/reasonable cost cruises. However once on board some cutbacks that enable expense reduction equate to a reduction in the luxury experience. For example the cabin bed linens are changed weekly (not the old 1-2-3 day cycles.). Guests are invited to re-use towels as often as possible (like most hotels these days). In the dining room, no longer are salads, flaming desserts or other upscale pleasures prepared table-side — these pleasures are relegated to the boutique dining experience for which guests are charged an extra fee. The evening entertainments are modest offerings of young performers alternated with solo guest evenings of comedians, musicians and orchestra specials. (The orchestra is now the backbone of the entire entertainment experience on the ship and earns its keep almost 24/7 it seems.)  Also, curiously there was no visibility of the officers mixing with the passengers on this cruise. Was this a cruise-line change in protocol or just this ship? Their companionship was missed.

On this floating city the MS Rotterdam, we saw many examples of how cities around the world have struggled to keep living and lifestyles buoyant — cutting back on the arts, reducing city services, enforcing health regulations and coping with security challenges. However, land-based cities have the power of taxation to cover their policy decisions, while the floating cities depend on the voluntary contributions from the market to “float their economic boat”. For some time, I have believed cities on the shore have economic navigational strategies to learn from the cities of the sea.