With enhanced health and safety protocols in place, cruise line advocates say it’s time for U.S. groups to take to the sea again. All they need is to get the green light from U.S. authorities.
What will it take for cruise lines to resume operations post-pandemic? Cruise ships were the unfortunate canary in the COVID-19 coal mine, starting with the British-registered Diamond Princess, which languished in quarantine in Yokohama for a month at the beginning of the crisis in February 2020. Ports and governments around the world responded by refusing to let cruise ships dock and advising people to avoid cruising. Many cruise lines also suspended operations to help stop the spread of the pandemic.
But that was then. Now cruise lines say they are ready to resume operations. Many cruise lines have adopted extensive, scientifically based health and safety protocols designed specifically to address, prevent and mitigate COVID-19 in the cruise environment. According to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) — whose members include everything from large international cruise lines such as Carnival Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Holland America and Disney Cruise Line, to more boutique enterprises such as Crystal Cruises and Paul Gauguin Cruises — nearly 400,000 passengers have sailed onboard CLIA ocean-going cruise line member ships since last summer—in Europe, the South Pacific and parts of Asia—with fewer than 70 cases total.
“The industry has demonstrated the effectiveness of our public health protocols, with incidence rate of COVID-19 that is far lower than practically any other setting, which is a testament to the effectiveness of the enhanced measures and the vigilance of industry operators,” said CLIA Director of Strategic Communications and Public Affairs Laziza Lambert.
Although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) initiated a phased approach to enabling cruise lines to resume operations in October 2020, it still recommends that people avoid travel on cruise ships due to a lingering COVID-19 risk, saying in its guidance that “Cruise passengers are at increased risk of person-to-person spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19.” This could change soon, however. The CDC recently issued a statement saying it is committed to restarting passenger operations in the U.S. by the middle of the summer, rather than the initial November 1, 2021, Conditional Sailing Order expiration date.
Prevue recently caught up with Lambert to find out more about when and how cruise lines may resume operations.
What affect will decision by the CDC to retract the requirement for cruise operators to demonstrate their COVID safety protocols with a simulated trip for ships with majority vaccinated passengers and crews — and most recently relaxed mask requirements for those who are fully vaccinated — have on cruise ship operators in the short and longer term?
The cruise industry is encouraged to see signs of forward progress as we work to address complexities of the Conditional Sailing Order that need to be resolved to support restart. While we appreciate the CDC’s spirit of cooperation and the clear desire to restore the cruise industry to operating status, there are cruise seasons that hang in the balance, and it is vital that a viable path forward emerge immediately. Therefore, we ask that our stakeholders continue to put pressure on the Biden Administration and urge them to prioritize resumption of cruising this summer.
What affect has the ban on allowing cruise ships to sail from US. Ports had on the industry, and specifically for its group business?
The cruise industry is a vital artery for the U.S. economy, generating $56 billion in total economic impact and $25 billion in direct spend, and supporting about 437,000 American jobs and $24.4 billion in wages in salaries each year. To put it into context, of the 1.2 million industry supported jobs worldwide, nearly 40% are U.S. jobs.
Unfortunately, we know that the pause in operations has resulted in a total economic loss of $39 billion, over 300,000 American jobs, and $16.5 billion in wages. This has had a devastating impact on your community, from longshoremen, to taxi drivers, travel agents and tour operators, ports, and numerous suppliers and vendors that make the cruise industry work.
We appreciate the support of Governors DeSantis (FL), Dunleavy (AK) and Abbott (TX), along with countless other elected leaders, in our efforts to advance a responsible resumption of cruise operations from U.S. ports beginning this summer. As we make progress with the CDC toward resumption, we look forward to working with our state and local partners to plan for a smooth return of cruise operations, which will further strengthen the economic recovery from the pandemic.
What are some of the biggest challenges for resuming cruise-based meetings, incentives and events? How would you respond to meeting planners who express concerns over lingering perceived challenges?
I would say that one of the biggest challenges is that cruise continues to be the only sector of the U.S. economy that remains expressly prohibited from operating by the federal government.
However, we know that the public health landscape is changing rapidly as the vaccine rollout continues to gain momentum and the world works to get closer to “normal” life once again. I would encourage meeting planners to continue to check in with CLIA on the latest industry updates and know that the cruise industry is working diligently to restart global operations and put people back to work.
People love to cruise, and that is part of what makes this industry so resilient. We know that people will return to the seas, just as they will return to restaurants, bars, movie theatres, airplanes, resorts and beyond. With that said, we recognize that it may take some time before the public is comfortable with many aspects of traveling post-pandemic. Rebuilding public trust in cruise is going to be a priority for us as we look to the future, and we hope to be able to do so by demonstrating the effectiveness of the measures in place.
When do you anticipate group meeting and events to start coming back to cruising?
While there is no crystal ball, we hope to see meetings and events take place on cruise ships once more in the coming months.
Above all else, the health and safety of passengers, crew, and the destinations we visit will always come first for the cruise industry. We will continue to work together to go above and beyond in order to promote a safe experience.
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