Cruise and Travel Leaders Call on CDC to Act to Resume Summer Cruises

calls to restart summer US cruises
Pre-pandemic line up of cruise ships in Miami (PortMiami)

Published Mar 24, 2021 7:18 PM by The Maritime Executive

After a year of having its operations paused due to the pandemic, the cruise industry is increasing its pressure on the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to lift the restrictions that continue to prevent large cruise ships from sailing from the US. Saying the science and the situation have changed while the CDC has failed to provide additional guidance to the cruise industry, the travel industry has become vocal in their calls for action while the cruise lines have begun to bypass the CDC.

Citing the fact that Florida is in danger of losing its historical position as the leading homeports for the cruise industry while other travel sectors are continuing to operate, the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) issued a statement outlining the case for restarting cruising.

“We call on the CDC to immediately lift its restrictions on cruising and set July 1st as the date that cruising can resume from U.S. ports,” said ASTA, the association of travel advisers has long been known as a powerful voice for the travel industry. They cited the success in controlling the spread of the virus with the use of public health measures including masking and social distancing as well as the rapid distribution of the COVID-19 vaccinations both in the US and abroad.

The cruise line trade group, Cruise Lines International Association, also called on the CDC to lift the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order issued in October 2020 to allow a planned, phased resumption of cruises from the US by the beginning of July. “The early-July timeframe is in line with President Biden’s forecast for when the United States will be ‘closer to normal,’” said CLIA.

They cited the fact that the CDC’s October 2020 order called for further guidance which the CDC has yet to provide. “The lack of action by the CDC has effectively banned all sailings in the largest cruise market in the world. Cruising is the only sector of the US economy that remains prohibited, even as most others have opened or continued to operate throughout the pandemic,” says CLIA.

The CDC continues to say it is working with its partner agencies to develop guidance based on the evolution of the pandemic. The new CDC director, however, refused to offer a timeline repeating the previous statements that the progress of the virus dictates the response. The CDC responded to the latest calls from the travel industry saying at this time it has no plans to rescind the current order which is scheduled to remain in effect till November 1, 2021.

Calling the CDC’s last guidance “unworkable” and saying that the company still does not know what is required by the CDC, Richard Fain, the CEO of the second-largest cruise company, Royal Caribbean Group, said the industry feels it is “time to move on.” Fain told a virtual travel industry meeting that “We think the science has moved on ahead of the conditional sail order.” Royal Caribbean has announced plans to resume service in June with three of the group’s cruise ships sailing from Bermuda, the Bahamas, and Caribbean as well as ships homeported in Israel and Singapore. They join with other large cruise lines which are starting summer cruises in the Caribbean, Asia, the UK, and the Mediterranean.

"The outdated CSO, which was issued almost five months ago, does not reflect the industry's proven advancements and success operating in other parts of the world, nor the advent of vaccines, and unfairly treats cruises differently. Cruise lines should be treated the same as other travel, tourism, hospitality, and entertainment sectors," said Kelly Craighead CLIA’s president and CEO.  

They are calling the CDC’s attention to the fact that nearly 400,000 passengers have sailed on cruises since the industry began restarting operations last summer with a “very small fraction of reported COVID cases.” CLIA said it could find fewer than 50 cases based on public reports. There have no wide-spread outbreaks like the highly publicized situations in the winter of 2020.

ASTA says the demand is there and that Americas are starting to resume travel meaning the CDC’s lack of action endangers the domestic travel industry and the economic benefits primarily felt in Florida as the largest homeport for the cruise ships. ASTA’s data says 44 percent of Americans are getting vaccinated so that they can travel and 87 percent of Americans are planning summer travel. The forward-thinking Caribbean islands that are reopening their tourism business will benefit as the cruise lines shift away from the US to restart their operations.

The travel and cruise industries are united in their calls that the CDC needs to update its policies to reflect the advancements made in the science and the efforts to contain and mitigate the virus.