TORONTO — It’s all but official: the summer 2021 Alaska cruise season will set sail without Canadian ports, pending President Biden’s signature on the Alaska Tourism Recovery Act.
Is it a surprise? Not really, says one travel agent. The legislation, which has been winding its way through official channels since March 2021, and passed in the U.S. Senate last week, is a temporary measure aimed at salvaging the 2021 season. And while there’s always the risk that temporary measures become permanent, it’s hard to believe that cruise lines would willingly opt to pass on the stunning beauty – not to mention the high rates of passenger satisfaction – of ports like Vancouver and Victoria.
In normal times, ships with non-U.S. registry (i.e. the vast majority of U.S.-based mass market cruise ships, typically registered in places like the Bahamas and Panama) can’t embark and disembark passengers at more than one U.S. port unless the itinerary also includes a foreign port. For Alaska cruises, the ‘foreign ports’ have always been Canadian. It’s all part of the U.S. Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA).
It’s the same reason why non-U.S. registered ships of U.S.-based cruise lines have to include a foreign port on Hawaii sailings. Given Hawaii’s position in the Pacific Ocean, that can be tough to do. NCL made a smart move – their Pride of America ship has U.S. registry, allowing it to sail all-Hawaii itineraries out of Honolulu.
The Alaska Tourism Recovery Act allows for just a temporary exemption, until February 2022, when Canada’s ban on cruise ships, extended in February 2021 by a year by Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, is set to expire.
It’s unprecedented, but expected, says Jennifer McPherson with Turnkey Travel – TravelOnly.
“I was not surprised to hear the U.S. decision to resume their Alaska cruise season this year,” McPherson told Travelweek this morning.
“There is a lot of pressure from the cruise industry to resume sailing and a U.S. to U.S. port itinerary such as Alaska, especially since it’s such a short sailing season, would make a lot of sense,” she adds.
The Alaska tourism depends greatly on the cruise ships “so it’s an economic win for them,” says McPherson.
Not to mention the strong vaccination rollout in the U.S., with 48.8% of Americans having received one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and 38.6% with two doses.
Here in Canada the vaccination rollout was slower to start but in recent weeks it’s surged. Canada’s one-dose vaccination rate is now 48.7% and millions more doses are going into arms or are on the way. Because of Canada’s strategy to stretch out the pause between doses, to maximize the number of Canadians able to get their first dose, the two-dose rate in Canada is 4%.
McPherson says she personally spends a good amount of time on Vancouver Island, and she always has clients sailing to Alaska each season. She says she’s confident that the 2022 Alaska season will include Canadian ports.
“I believe the rebound demand will simply require our ports as all of the cruise ships will need to be spread out between Vancouver, Victoria and Seattle at any given time,” she says.
“Secondly, the B.C. / U.S. relationship needs to be maintained as we still have the leverage of thousands of Americans wanting to enter each year to drive into (& through) B.C. and Alberta to head north.”
McPherson adds: “This pandemic has created a lot of unprecedented decisions, however, I am sure we will get back to even greater levels of tourism than before.”
Several Carnival Corp. Cruise lines including Princess Cruises and Holland America Line announced yesterday that they plan to resume their Alaska sailings in July 2021 out of Seattle. While several cruise lines including Holland America have already announced upcoming 2021 sailings, so far they’re all from non-U.S. ports, as the cruise industry works with the CDC on getting the green light for U.S. cruises. The Alaska cruises announced yesterday could be the first sailings from U.S. ports by big-ship U.S. cruise lines since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.