By Jason Jourdan
Once upon a time, the cruise industry delivered fairytale experiences across endless seas of commercial tourism profitability. In 2020, the Love Boat was rechristened as the Titanic when an iceberg named COVID-19 ripped through global travel, leaving a wake of destruction in the cruise industry to the tune of $1.1 trillion in losses.
How will the cruise lines rebuild amid tourism’s struggles to recover? As vaccines power the reopening efforts of other travel sectors, cruises remain engulfed in stormy weather. In addition, high profile incidents of outbreaks and the perceived risks of mega-ships as super-spreaders have created a public relations wound difficult to heal.
The Conversation conducted a survey in the U.K. and Australia that revealed 47 percent of passengers did not trust the cruise lines to handle medical emergencies and found 67 percent were not keen on the prospect of sea travel because of COVID.
In response, cruise lines have developed stringent hygiene protocols to avoid the reoccurrence of the outbreaks that plagued several cruise liners at the onset of the pandemic. In addition to covering the costs of mandatory testing, cruise companies insist on masks for passengers and staff.
Cruise liners have been quick to promote the uniqueness and benefits of their closed system when compared to other travel options. An ocean cruise eliminates the coming and going of passengers and provides an environment of constant monitoring and contact tracing. Cruise liners boast that landlocked vacations can’t offer the track and trace protections of a sea voyage.
Despite these promotional efforts, the reality is luxury liners have been idling empty for over a year. As a result, popular ports of call have made changes to realign their tourism to more local and sustainable venues. These changes will have significant economic and environmental impacts on cruise lines. As a result, sustainability has been an increasing focus of the travel industry as mega-ships receive blame for the effects of over-tourism. In addition, new legislative actions are cropping up to ban docking in Venice and restrict passenger disembarking in Key West to combat the negative aspects of mass tourism.
The cruise companies are challenging many of these rules in court and finding allies in major seaports. As litigation heats up, cruise liners are exploring options to relocate their operations to Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean. Port Miami, the world’s most traveled cruise port, stands to lose the most if cruise travel moves to the Caribbean.
The threat to economic stability has spurred the Florida legislature to take measures to overturn the move by Key West and issue laws to protect the struggling cruise industry in the sunshine state. However, for the barely-afloat cruise industry, the legal battles, revised safety protocols, and demands for sustainability are minor swells compared to the tsunami posed by the C.D.C.
U.S. cruise tourism continues to be stalled by ongoing restrictions from the Centers for Disease Control (C.D.C.). A lack of clarity and shifting goalposts has frustrated the industry’s efforts to relaunch. The C.D.C. recently issued new guidance to the cruise ship industry, including requirements for daily COVID reporting and forming a plan and timeline for crew and port personnel vaccination. The months-long process also features enhanced testing routines and simulated voyages to practice new COVID-19 operational procedures.
These conditional actions must be complete before passenger voyages can resume.
The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the industry’s trade group, called the instructions “so burdensome and ambiguous that no clear path forward or timetable can be discerned.” The cruise lines are calling for a phased resumption of service beginning in July. Cruise companies are asking for the C.D.C. to revise its guidelines considering the encouraging data seen in the rollout of vaccination programs. The C.D.C. has been slow to respond and has not provided a firm date for U.S. sailings to resume. Mega players, like Carnival, are openly stating they will move outside the United States if the C.D.C. continues to prevent domestic operations. The C.D.C.’s advisory remains at a Level 4, advocating for travelers to avoid cruise ships worldwide.
Without concessions and cooperation from world health authorities, the cruise industry will continue to languish. Royal Caribbean and M.S.C. Cruises are among the cruise lines launching summer sailings in Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean. M.S.C. announced it would be canceling all U.S. cruises through June 30 in favor of plans to launch ten ships from Europe and the Mediterranean by August. Royal Caribbean is sailing out of the Bahamas and Bermuda. Both cruise liners are requiring vaccinations for all crew and passengers.
The success of the cruise industry’s efforts to recoup 2020’s losses of $50 billion in economic activity, 334,000 jobs, and $15 billion in wages rests on their ability to navigate the uncharted waters of unprecedented health restrictions, challenges to consumer confidence, and increased pressure to adopt sustainability measures.
Travelers can support the industry while mitigating the risks of a sea voyage by purchasing a travel medical insurance policy. Comparing insurance providers to find the right policy helps address potential health issues aboard the ship or any port of call. While an insurance policy won’t mitigate every risk associated with a cruise to an exotic seaport, it will provide a healthy dose of peace of mind. International travel medical insurance from Point Comfort® offers policies with benefits to cover a range of travel contingencies, including:
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- Return of Minor Child
- Emergency Traveler Assistance
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