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To say that the cruise industry is not thrilled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) latest update to its Conditional Sail Order (CSO) would be an understatement.
Last week, in response to multiple calls to rescind the cruising restrictions as soon as possible and resume voyages by this summer, the CDC instead released the next several steps in its multiphase approach. Then, on Tuesday, an unofficial statement from the agency —perhaps in response to increased pressure following the initial CSO revisions — suggested that cruise ships may be on the water by mid-summer 2021.
When news of the initial CSO update broke, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) did not mince words in its statement:
“The additional cruise industry instructions issued April 2 by the CDC under the CSO are disappointing. The new requirements are unduly burdensome, largely unworkable and seem to reflect a zero-risk objective rather than the mitigation approach to COVID-19 that is the basis for every other U.S. sector of our society.”
“If anything, the announcement last Friday is a clarion call for closer cooperation and coordination among stakeholders to achieve the President’s goal of reaching a ‘new normal’ by the Fourth of July,” it continued. “Working together, we can avoid the negative consequences that come when cruising, and the workers who support it, are not afforded the same opportunities as other workers in industries with far fewer practices in place to provide for public health and well-being.”
CLIA, which represents 95% of global ocean-going cruise capacity, also reiterated the extensive financial loss the CDC’s relative inaction places on millions of Americans, “from longshoremen and ground transportation operators to hotel, restaurant and retail workers, travel agents and tens of thousands of businesses that service cruise ships.”
To provide additional perspective, it took the CDC nearly half a year to proceed from the first phase to 2A (of four), while all other travel segments have reopened, including flights, theme parks and resorts.
CLIA’s statement continued:
“The instructions are at odds with the approach the CDC and governments in other parts of the world apply to all other travel and tourism segments in mitigating the risk of COVID-19. On the same day the CDC issued new onerous requirements for the cruise industry, five months after the original order, the CDC issued relaxed guidance for domestic and international travel due to vaccination progress and recognition of the improved public health environment.”
Some cruise lines chose not to play ball with such unbalanced rules, but rather promote an alternative approach.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., for instance, released its intentions to resume sailings safely from the U.S. by July with all guests and crew fully vaccinated. The corporation, which operates Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, believes its rigid protocols effectively supersede the Conditional Sail Order, and has requested that the order be altogether lifted, accordingly.
"Finally, the cruise industry is standing up with a collective voice to the CDC’s apathy of the cruise industry, and we are glad Norwegian’s leadership is taking the lead in requiring vaccinations for domestic cruises creating a safe environment at sea,” said Michelle Fee, CEO of Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative, in a press release. “I can’t fathom how the CDC can ignore all the great work, including scientific-based research, the cruise industry has been doing to assure cruising is safe."
I can’t fathom how the CDC can ignore all the great work, including scientific-based research, the cruise industry has been doing to assure cruising is safe.
After the initial reactions from CLIA and several cruise lines, the CDC’s informal statement (provided to press but not shared on the agency’s official website) offered a more tentative timeline, expressing that the agency “is committed to working with the cruise industry and seaport partners to resume cruising following the phased approach outlined in the conditional sailing order. This goal aligns with the desire to resume passenger operations in the United States expressed by many major cruise ship operators and travelers; hopefully, by mid-summer with restricted revenue sailings.”
Nonetheless, Norwegian is still hedging its bets by planning additional summer foreign voyages that homeport in Caribbean countries, as are Celebrity Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Royal Caribbean International and Viking (all of which require COVID-19 inoculations for the time being).
Carnival Cruise Line, on the other hand, has expressed that it does not wish to take this approach.
“While we have not made plans to move Carnival Cruise Line ships outside of our U.S. homeports, we may have no choice but to do so in order to resume our operations, which have been on ‘pause’ for over a year,” said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival, in a press release. “We appreciate the continued patience and support from our loyal guests, travel advisors and business partners as we work on a return-to-service solution.”
Meanwhile, CLIA is still hopeful that ships will return sooner rather than later, citing the nearly 400,000 cruise passengers that have already sailed safely from Europe and Asia over the last year.
"The irony is that today, an American can fly to any number of destinations to take a cruise, but cannot board a ship in the U.S.,” CLIA said. “This deprives U.S. workers from participating in the economic recovery and does not recognize the public health advances that have been made over many months, including the ability to effectively mitigate risk on cruise ships.”
The irony is that today, an American can fly to any number of destinations to take a cruise, but cannot board a ship in the U.S.
Cruise Planners’ Fee highlights the importance of resuming cruise travel from the U.S. to avoid further devastation to travel companies, dock workers, taxi drivers, shore excursion companies and travel advisors.
"Shutting down the cruise lines has literally shut down the industry,” she said. “It is a trickle-down effect. The pent-up demand for cruises and volume of requests our travel advisors are getting will fill the ships with vaccinated passengers in the near future, no problem. Many of our clients are vaccinated and ready to sail. We are all at a standstill when it comes to domestic cruises until the CDC decides to lift the unfair CSO.”
The pressure is on the CDC to lift its CSO, and travel agents can contact their government representatives to have their voices heard. CLIA has made it particularly easy by visiting its action center: https://cruising.org/en/clia-action-center
The DetailsCruise Lines International Associationwww.cruising.org