THERESA NORTON | TravelPulse.Com
Troy Warren #travel-all
The mood in the cruise industry on April 2 was one of frustration and even anger that the path to sailing in the U.S. was again hindered by the glacial pace of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
After all, most passenger cruise ships have been shut down for more than a year. The lines were in Phase 1 of the Conditional Sail Order (CSO) for five entire months, and then received more technical instructions on April 2 on how to enter Phase 2 – how long would that last before they could even begin test cruises outlined in Phase 3?
This cruise guidance came just hours after the CDC said fully vaccinated people can travel safely within the U.S.
Initial public response from the cruise lines was muted or nonexistent – we can only imagine what their real reactions were – but the Cruise Lines International Association said the CDC update was “disappointing.”
“The new requirements are unduly burdensome, largely unworkable, and seem to reflect a zero-risk objective rather than the mitigation approach to COVID that is the basis for every other U.S. sector of our society,” CLIA said in an April 5 statement. “The effect of these new mandates is that nearly half a million 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 – are continuing to financially suffer with no reasonable timeline provided for the safe return of cruising.
“Moreover, 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 CDC issued new onerous requirements for the cruise industry, five months after the original order, CDC issued relaxed guidance for domestic and international travel due to vaccination progress and recognition of the improved public health environment,” the statement read.
CLIA points out that nearly 400,000 passengers, following strict protocols, have already sailed in Europe and Asia since last summer with a far lower incident rate than on land.
“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.,” the CLIA statement 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.”
Companies such as Royal Caribbean International, Crystal and Celebrity Cruisesare sailing from ports in The Bahamas, Bermuda, the Caribbean and Israel, completely bypassing the U.S. Several are planning to operate from the U.K. or in the Greek Islands.
“With no clear path forward or timeframe for resumption in the U.S., more sailings originating in the Caribbean and elsewhere are likely to be announced, effectively shutting American ports, closing thousands of American small businesses, and pushing an entire industry off-shore,” CLIA said.
It was all apparently too much for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings President and CEO Frank Del Rio, who responded April 5 by sending a letter to the CDC, “respectfully” asking the agency to lift the CSO for all NCLH vessels departing from U.S. ports effective July 4, 2021.
In a letter to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, he outlined his intention to begin operating from U.S. ports on or about July 4, 2021, with an initial reduced capacity of 60 percent, gradually ramping up the fleet departing from U.S. ports and increasing capacity by 20 percent every 30 days.
How the CDC responds remains to be seen.
Del Rio’s bold move was welcomed.
“We were encouraged to see activity between the CDC, CLIA and the cruise lines on Friday. In response, Frank Del Rio sent a very well-done letter to the CDC outlining how Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings are able to meet and exceed the CSO,” said Debbie Fiorino, senior vice president and COO of World Travel Holdings’ Owned Brands. “This is all great news; we are seeing momentum and will continue to see the cruise lines demonstrate how they can exceed any other sector of society. The result should be that we start to safely sail sooner than later from the U.S.”