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TravelAge West had originally planned to provide an outlook on 2020’s massive upcoming Alaskan cruise season. Then, the coronavirus upended the travel industry. What had been anticipated to be one of the busiest summers in the region may now become one of the quietest.
But, there are benefits that could result from the disruption.
As it stands now, Canada will not permit cruise ships to dock at any of its ports until July 1. What’s more, Northern and Arctic ports will be off-limits for the entire season. The latter has caused Adventure Canada to suspend its polar service until 2021.
Southerly Canadian ports matter for the Alaskan cruise season, which utilizes predominantly American ports of call, because of the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA) of 1886. Often incorrectly confused with the Jones Act — which is the maritime cargo equivalent — the PVSA disallows foreign-flagged passenger vessels from carrying guests between U.S. destinations unless they first stop at a foreign port.
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Since most cruise ships are registered in foreign countries, most Alaskan itineraries start in, end in, or visit the likes of Vancouver or Victoria in British Columbia. While the PVSA was introduced to protect American vessels (as it does for Norwegian Cruise Line’s singular U.S.-registered Pride of America, allowing it to sail exclusively intra-island during its year-round Hawaii sailings), it now applies to just one in moderate- to large-vessel categories.
However, many small coastal cruise and expedition ships in Alaska are U.S.-flagged and can already bypass Canadian ports and continue to operate in the region. In fact, several such operators, unencumbered by the concerns of large group sizes, are planning to sail earlier than July. Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic is moving ahead as scheduled, UnCruise Adventures and Alaskan Dream Cruises are only delaying their sailings until May and June, respectively, and American Cruise Lines intends to resume service mid-May.
Until at least July 1, the 2020 Alaskan cruise season will most likely be dominated by small players, giving them a rare chance to shine — and travel advisors the opportunity to showcase them. That is, unless the U.S. government considers repealing the PVSA, which many already consider outdated.
Given current political considerations to assist the coronavirus-hit cruise industry, it stands to reason that the PVSA might be eliminated, even if just temporarily, to assist all cruise ships and lines in opening the Alaskan cruise season sooner. Of course, that would also depend on overall global health conditions.
Otherwise, for the first time in a very long while, cruise travelers will only be able to see Alaska via small ship. At least for the start of the summer, that means no concerns of overtourism in the destination. Cozy towns such as Skagway will not be overrun daily with thousands of cruise visitors, making this the ideal opportunity for clients to see the sublimely sleepy side of Alaska. And this may likely be the case for the entire season if Canada effectively keeps larger ships out for any longer.
The mega-vessels originally scheduled for Alaska may have to go elsewhere this summer, which would offer perks for seasonally less frequented destinations. It’s very likely the large ships will head to Mexico, Hawaii or even the California coast (with necessary stops in a foreign port such as Ensenada, Mexico).
It’s a dynamic time for the cruise industry. And by no means is it all bad news. There are several positive side effects for travelers and destinations on the horizon. Now is the time for advisors to be mindful of where the industry might be headed to creatively take advantage of the resulting opportunities.
The DetailsAdventure Canadawww.adventurecanada.com
Alaskan Dream Cruiseswww.alaskandreamcruises.comAmerican Cruise Lineswww.americancruiselines.comLindblad Expeditions-National Geographicwww.expeditions.comUnCruise Adventureswww.uncruise.com
Read more from TravelAge West about the COVID-19 outbreak.