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The American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) has a pressing message for the Biden administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Please lift sailing restrictions and allow cruising to resume from the United States by July 1, 2021.
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) also calls for a phased restart, emphasizing that President Biden’s own forecast for when the U.S. will be “closer to normal” is in line with an early-July timeframe.
“Over the past eight months, a highly controlled resumption of cruising has continued in Europe, Asia and the South Pacific — with nearly 400,000 passengers sailing to date in more than 10 major cruise markets,” said Kelly Craighead, president and CEO of CLIA, in a press release. “These voyages were successfully completed with industry-leading protocols that have effectively mitigated the spread of COVID-19. Additional sailings are planned in the Mediterranean and Caribbean later this spring and summer.”
Over the past eight months, a highly controlled resumption of cruising has continued in Europe, Asia and the South Pacific — with nearly 400,000 passengers sailing to date in more than 10 major cruise markets.
Zane Kerby, president and CEO of ASTA, stated additional reasons to resume:
“With the observance of proper masking and social distancing protocols, nearly every other form of human activity has been cleared for resumption, including dining in restaurants, attending movies and sporting events, overnight hotel stays and traveling by air,” he said. “Inexplicably, however, in the current phase of its 'Framework for Conditional Sailing Order,’ the CDC continues to suspend all cruise ship operations in U.S. waters. This current guidance is not expected to expire until Nov. 1 and comes on the heels of the CDC’s prior No Sail Order, which effectively banned cruise travel for most of 2020.”
Lost Jobs and Travel as a Vaccination MotivationKerby also points out exactly what’s at stake. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the two largest cruise ports in the world — Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. — were located in the U.S., with record numbers of travelers accommodated onboard. Back in 2019 alone, travel agencies processed $12.3 billion in cruise sales and directly supported 86,360 cruise line jobs in our country.
What level of vaccination, infection or mortality rate needs be met to allow cruising to resume?
CLIA adds that the cruise industry bolstered nearly 450,000 American jobs and contributed more than $55.5 billion annually before the pandemic. Altogether, more than 300,000 jobs have been lost in the U.S. due to the suspension of sailings, based on economic modeling by research firm BREA.
As of today, “the ongoing restrictions are particularly unwarranted given that COVID-19 vaccinations are on the rise,” Kerby said, noting that approximately 25% of all Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and the number of those fully inoculated is increasing daily.
Data also indicates that vaccinated individuals are not likely to spread the virus, so it speaks to reason that cruising can safely resume, especially given the comprehensive hygiene standards that the industry has already implemented.
ASTA’s consumer research reveals that 44% of Americans are getting vaccinated so that they can travel, and 87% of Americans tell the association they are planning a summer trip. Specific to cruising, more than 70% indicate they are ready to sail now.
The lack of any action by the CDC has effectively banned all sailings in the largest cruise market in the world.
What’s more, CLIA reports that a very small fraction of reported COVID-19 cases — fewer than 50 onboard based on public reports — is considerably lower than the shoreside rate or that for any other form of transportation.
Nonetheless, the CDC’s Conditional Sailing Order remains in place with no further guidance provided to cruise lines to fulfill its requirements for test cruises, let alone begin to operate regular passenger voyages again.
“The lack of any action by the CDC has effectively banned all sailings in the largest cruise market in the world,” according to CLIA.
Even more concerning, when Alaskan senator Lisa Murkowski recently asked the CDC’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, in a video exchange about a specific timeline for permitting cruise travel, the director was deflective.
Which Government Agencies Are Involved in Allowing U.S. Cruising to Resume?“This is an interagency decision,” Walensky said. “It is not a decision solely up to the CDC. I don’t believe it’s solely in our jurisdiction to address. I believe the Department of Transportation and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) [are also involved]. There are numerous others that are making these decisions.”
When asked for further clarity on the matter, the CDC did not immediately respond to comment. However, ASTA’s Kerby did react when TravelAge West inquired.
“We are unaware of internal CDC policy formulation,” he said. “Whether the Department of Transportation or OMB have input into the final order is irrelevant. Neither of the other agencies are tasked with public health, nor are they the final authority on the Conditional Sail Order. The CDC is. Punting that decision to other bureaucratic departments is a dereliction of duty and a lack of leadership.”
Kerby believes that Murkowski is right to question Walensky on a timeline, one which she declined to provide. He further expresses that much more is known about the novel coronavirus than at this time last year, particularly that it has a 99% survival rate and that aforementioned public health measures are extremely effective in reducing its spread.
“Millions of Americans have resumed normal activity by following these simple practices,” he said. “Millions have safely returned to the nation’s skies and hotels. It is unconscionable for the CDC to single out cruising as the one activity that poses such unique risks, the conditions upon which resumption can’t even be articulated.”
His question for the CDC: “What level of vaccination, infection or mortality rate needs be met to allow cruising to resume?”
As it stands now, two leading cruise lines — Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean International — announced last week that they would resume cruise operations in the Caribbean in order to bypass U.S. homeports altogether.
RELATED: Royal Caribbean International Plans Resumption With June Sailings in the Bahamas
“Clearly, when legislative, regulatory and diplomatic ‘fixes’ all fail, businesses are forced to make alternative arrangements,” he said in his original statement.
Americans will now likely fly straight to the Caribbean instead of into Florida. Kerby commends these forward-thinking Caribbean islands for recognizing that vaccination rates are rising while both infection and mortality rates are declining. By contrast, he lamented that the CDC’s continued inaction imperils livelihoods and communities in South Florida and beyond.
“It is a shame that the CDC’s inflexibility has brought us to this point,” he said.
CLIA’s Craighead echoed the sentiment.
"The outdated Conditional Sailing Order, which was issued almost five months ago, does not reflect the industry’s proven advancements and success operating in other parts of the world, nor the advent of vaccines, and unfairly treats cruises differently,” she said. “Cruise lines should be treated the same as other travel, tourism, hospitality and entertainment sectors.”
The DetailsAmerican Society of Travel Advisors www.asta.org
Cruise Lines International Association www.cruising.org