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The murky future of the U.S. cruise industry

Published: Apr. 20, 2021 at 11:26 AM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - The future is still murky for cruise lines in the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines recently for companies on how to respond in the event of COVID-19 cases, but the agency has not yet lifted its no-sail order.

State and industry leaders are still seeking clarity on a timeline for resumption.

The state of Florida filed a lawsuit earlier this month against the federal government to force the reopening of the state’s cruise industry.

Meanwhile, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) is rocking a similar boat in the U.S Senate. Alongside U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Scott introduced the Careful Resumption Under Improved Safety Enhancements (CRUISE) Act. It would revoke the CDC’s current Conditional Sail Order on cruises and require the CDC to provide COVID-19 mitigation guidance for cruise lines to resume safe domestic operations by July 4, 2021.

“It would tell the CDC, you’ve got to start doing your job,” said Scott. “You’ve got to tell the cruise industry promptly how they can cruise safely.”

But not everyone is ready to hop on board just yet.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) shared their concerns about premature cruise resumption and the threat of outbreaks onboard in a letter to the CDC. It reads in part:

“While the United States is making significant progress in distributing COVID-19 vaccines, introduction and spread of COVID-19 by cruise ship crew and passengers could undermine this progress and require additional mitigation measures that delay our economic recovery and put public health at severe risk. We urge you to strictly enforce the technical guidance issued under the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) to minimize this threat, and take all appropriate steps—including halting cruises as necessary—if outbreaks occur on board…”

Doris Matsui, Member of Congress and Richard Blumenthal, United States Senate

In Florida, the shutdown is costing more than lost ticket sales and jobs on deck. The Florida Ports Council estimates the sailing halt caused a $23 billion loss in economic activity in 2020.

As other modes of travel and leisure activities open up, Florida’s Restaurant and Lodging Association President Carol Dover says opening the docks will help other areas of Florida tourism stay afloat.

“The tourism industry is not only the economic engine of our state but its also the largest employer, or it was,” said Dover. “People can dine, people can go to sporting events, people can stay in hotels. We need to get these cruise ships going.”

Industry stakeholders are now turning to a new Senate Subcommittee on tourism. The Subcommittee on Tourism, Trade, and Export Promotion was created this year to assist with a path forward in the uncharted post-pandemic waters.

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