CDC’s No Sail Order has been lifted but cruise lines are extending their pause – why?

CDC’s No Sail Order has been lifted but cruise lines are extending their pause – why?

TORONTO — The cruise industry finally caught a break last week when the CDC announced the lifting of its No Sail Order, a long-standing measure that has prevented cruise lines from operating in U.S. waters for the past eight months.

The order, which was originally put in place on March 14 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been replaced with the ‘Framework for Conditional Sailing Order,’ a 40-page road map for cruise lines to use in preparation for their eventual resumption. The idea behind the Framework is, if cruise lines can adequately demonstrate they’ve complied with testing and other safety protections, plus pull off simulated voyages to test their ability to mitigate the spread of the virus, they’ll then be given the green light to resume operations.

This, of course, is welcome news for cruise lines that have been sitting dormant since March. But just four days after CDC’s announcement, NCLH, which operates Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, announced the extension of suspension for all three brands through to Dec. 31, 2020. One day after that on Nov. 3, CLIA, which represents over 50 cruise lines including NCLH, followed suit with a blanket-wide extension of operations for all its member lines, also until the end of the year.

For months, we’ve seen cruise lines advocate for the safe return of cruising, with Royal Caribbean Group and NCLH even going so far as to create a ‘Healthy Sail Panel’ tasked with establishing health and safety protocols for the entire cruise industry. So why then, with the No Sail Order no longer in place, are cruise lines still extending their temporary pause in operations?

The reason, says CLIA, is two-fold.

Speaking exclusively with Travelweek, Laziza Lambert, Strategic Communications Manager at CLIA, says that while the CDC’s new Framework is a “positive step” for the cruise community, there are several complexities required before cruise lines can begin the planning process, and that additional clarity is needed in a number of instances.

Laziza also adds that more time is needed for cruise lines to ensure a safe return for guests and crew.

“In order to make sure that we are taking the appropriate and required steps and that we have needed clarity about the requirements of the Order, CLIA’s ocean-going cruise line members have decided to extend our current suspension of operations in the U.S.” she says.

“Since the first day of our voluntary suspension of operations in March, the cruise industry has remained steadfast in our commitment to making science-led, people-first decisions. This action will provide additional time to align the industry’s extensive preparation of health protocols with the implementation requirements under the CDC’s Framework for Conditional Sailing and Initial Phase COVID-19 Testing Requirements for Protection of Crew,” she adds.

This overabundance of caution is nothing new for the cruise industry, which is the only travel segment required to report to the CDC. As such, cruise passengers are already accustomed to stringent safety protocols onboard ships, which will only ramp up once operations resume.

As Laziza says, you can never be too safe.

“What we know from scientists and healthcare experts is that no venue is immune to the virus. The best the world can do – and any industry can do – is to reduce the ability of the virus to enter an environment and to mitigate its impact by having rigorous protocols in place that evolve over time as conditions change, addressing prevention, detection and response,” she says.

This cautious approach is perhaps why the Canadian government decided to extend its cruise ship ban until Feb. 28, 2021, a move that seems even more prudent when compared to CDC’s announcement made just one day after.

When asked why Canada would take a more guarded approach, Laziza said CLIA is in constant communication with Canadian authorities to work towards a resumption of operations.

“CLIA has been actively engaged with Transport Canada, Canadian Health Authorities and Canadian ports since the first announcement suspending cruise operations was made in March,” she says. “We continue to work to identify the necessary steps to resume sailing in a responsible manner that  keeps the health of passengers, crew and the communities we visit at the forefront.”

Though Canada’s extended ban and CLIA’s prolonged pause may mean travellers will have to wait a little while longer to sail again, the fact that there’s now a light at the end of the tunnel will be of great comfort to cruisers and their travel agents. Travelweek checked in with several agents to ask what the lifting of the ban will mean to their clients in 2021. Here’s what they had to say:

Marianne Vogel, CTC, owner, Just for You Travel & Consulting, Dunas, ON

“I have guarded optimism now that the CDC has lifted the Order. I thought things are finally going in the right direction at least, but people are still very scared to go anywhere, especially if it involves the USA due to its poor handling of the pandemic in general.

“Though the U.S. has lifted the Order, Canada has not and that concerns me greatly. A few of my cruise clients have asked me to extend their future travel credits and/or cruise deposits if possible, and they are on a wait-and-see circuit right now. Canadians are looking to keep safe and although the desire to travel via the U.S. is very strong, they are extremely reluctant due to the rising cases there. All my clients are saying ‘thanks, but no thanks.’

“Plus, insurance companies may cover you when you go to Mexico, for instance, but because of the Canadian government’s no sail order, they won’t cover you on the cruise. We are under a no sail order no matter what the CDC says, and we cannot be covered for insurance.”

Joanna Saab, Travel Consultant, Travel Only, Ancaster, ON

“My clients seemed surprised that the CDC lifted the ban on cruising considering the numbers of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. But once they realized this is a tentative restart with multiple safeguards in place, I think overall people are happy things seem to be moving forward.

“While I think it’s a fantastic start to get the cruise industry back in action, and I am super impressed with all that the cruise lines have done to ensure the safety of all passengers and crew onboard, I am happy to wait to see how the first cruises go. I will be watching to see how cruise lines and the U.S. government handle any positive cases that may occur onboard.

“Not everyone will be ready to sail out of the gate, and that’s perfectly okay. It’s not up to me to decide when my clients feel ready to travel again, but it is my job to help support and educate them about the options available to them.

Valerie Murphy, Travel Advisor, Vision Travel Solutions, Cambridge, ON

“I was thrilled to hear the news about the CDC lifting the No Sail Order, hoping that it would take away the ‘stigma’ of cruising. Although I haven’t had a lot of clients reach out to me with regards to the news, I have had a number of them book cruises for 2021 and 2022 in the last few months, so I do think people are positive about the cruising experience now.

“I absolutely think it’s safe to cruise. All cruise lines have put in place cleaning and even quarantine protocols. I think as an industry we are a lot smarter about COVID-19 now than we were in February and March. I have reassured clients about this, and even showed them videos of the guidelines in place. Most clients who, in March, thought they would never cruise again are back to agreeing that standards within the industry will be put in place to keep everyone safe and healthy.”

Cindy Sosroutomo