CDC finally drops Cruise Ship Travel Health Notice, to industry cheers

CLIA on the resumption of cruises and bypassing of Canadian ports

TORONTO — The cruise industry’s recovery has grown leaps and bounds in recent weeks, with several cruise lines announcing resumption of service from both U.S. and non-U.S. ports.

Royal Caribbean, Crystal, Celebrity and Holland America will all be offering cruises from the Caribbean and the Mediterranean this summer, a major milestone for an industry that has been largely shut down since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A few weeks after news of these resumptions broke, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess and Holland America all announced their return to Alaska, also this summer, from Seattle, made possible by the signing of the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act by U.S. President Biden. And, just last week Celebrity made waves once again when it announced Celebrity Edge’s upcoming seven-night Caribbean cruise from Fort Lauderdale, the first ship to deploy from U.S. waters in more than a year. 

All this has been welcome news to CLIA, which made the extraordinary move in March 2020 to voluntarily suspend all cruise ship operations from and to U.S. ports of call, following outbreaks on two Princess Cruises ships in the early days of the pandemic. Between mid-March and September 2020, CLIA puts the estimated total loss in global economic activity at US$77 billion, leading to 518,000 lost jobs in the industry and $23 billion in wages. 

Speaking exclusively with Travelweek, Laziza Lambert, Director, Strategic Communications and Public Affairs says that CLIA is “thrilled that the cruise industry is on track to sail out of U.S. ports by July,” and that it is looking forward to “doing our part to contributing to the broader economic recovery from the pandemic, especially within the travel and tourism sector.”

According to CLIA’s 2021 State of the Industry Outlook, a total of 270 ocean-going member cruise ships are anticipated to be in operation in 2021, with 20 projected to make their debuts. In a December 2020 survey of 4,000 international vacationers, including those from Canada, CLIA also found that 74% of respondents are likely to cruise in the next few years, while two out of three are willing to cruise within a year’s time. Even better news? A total of 58% of international vacationers who have never cruised before said they are likely to book a cruise in the next few years. 

The recovery is well underway, starting with these summer voyages out of non-U.S. ports with Royal Caribbean, Crystal, Celebrity and Holland America. When asked why she thinks other cruise lines have not made a similar move as a way to salvage a portion of their summer seasons, Lambert references recent updates to CDC guidelines that provided further clarification to cruise lines as to what exactly is required for them to resume operations. In addition to health screenings, mask wearing, social distancing and more, cruise lines must also conduct test cruises with volunteer passengers prior to resuming regular cruises in U.S. waters.

“Over the last several weeks, the CDC has clarified its requirements for cruise lines to be consistent with the latest science and effective mitigation measures,” she said. “These clarifications have enabled cruise lines to begin to take the steps necessary to plan for a resumption of operations from the United States, which is the largest cruise market in the world.”

On how places like Nassau, St. Maarten and Athens, all of which will serve as homeports for inaugural summer voyages, will potentially impact the recovery of the U.S. cruise market, Lambert adds: “Some of these markets will serve as home ports for ships that would have otherwise departed from the United States. It is too soon to say how this will impact the U.S. cruise industry in the long-term.” 

In the short-term, however, the return to Alaska is considered a major victory for U.S. cruise lines, which throughout the pandemic have been unable to operate Alaska voyages due to Canada’s ban on cruise ships, recently extended until February 2022. The newly signed Alaska Tourism Restoration Act essentially gives non-U.S. registered ships temporary exemption from including a foreign port on their itineraries. For Alaska cruises, ‘foreign ports’ have always been Canadian. 

What this means, of course, is that although the resumption of Alaska cruises this summer is certainly good news for the U.S. cruise industry, it’s considered yet another blow to the Canadian travel industry, with important port cities like Vancouver missing out on valuable traveller spend for another year.

When asked what CLIA thinks about Canadian ports being left out of this year’s season in Alaska, Lambert says she remains hopeful for a full season in 2022.

“We understand the Canadian government’s focus on combatting COVID-19 in Canada,” she says. “As the situation evolves, we hope to have the opportunity to work constructively with Canadian authorities, as we have done in every other cruise market, to establish a viable path for resumption to and from Canadian ports in 2022.”

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