Desperate cruise lines looking to depart from U.S. ports after more than a year of inactivity were again disappointed this week when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the timetable for repealing the Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) framework as of January 1. November confirmed.

After months of what they see as indecision and inaction by the CDC, CLIA, which represents cruise operators, and ASTA, which speaks for travel agents who sell cruises, earlier this week called on the CDC to lift the cruise ban immediately.

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Kelly Craighead, CEO of CLIA, called the CSOs outdated and said the five-month-old guidelines do not reflect operators’ proven performance. Cruise protocols have been effective in limiting the spread of COWID-19 on ships currently sailing in Asia, Europe and the South Pacific, Craighead said.

Current trend

Moreover, CSOs unfairly treat cruises differently from other travel, tourism, hotel and entertainment sectors, Craighead said. She said CLIA operators welcomed 400,000 cruise passengers in an eight-month period in 2021 and reported fewer than 50 cases of COWID-19.

ASTA officials have upheld the cruise lines’ complaint of unfair treatment. With the right masking and social distance protocols, almost all other forms of human activity could be resumed, said Zane Kirby, CEO of ASTA.

However, it is inexplicable that at this point in its [CSO] the CDC continues to suspend all cruise ship operations in U.S. waters, he said. Kirby called the restrictions particularly unwarranted in light of the increase in vaccinations in the United States.

Caregivers are unhappy

The CDC’s announcement that the CSOs will remain in place as part of a phased approach to reducing the risk of COVID-19 spreading naturally infuriated cruise ship vendors.

It has been five months since the CDC issued the conditional sailing order. Of course it doesn’t work, Stewart Chiron, a Miami-based consultant known as Cruise Guy, said in a Twitter post Wednesday.

Chiron added: It is also incomplete. This was essentially a continuation of the opt-out order. It’s time for the CDC to step down and work on reopening America’s ports.

This is a stupid and shameful statement by the CDC, a retired cruise official and industry consultant said in a tweet. No update for the past 5 months? Even @CDCDirector doesn’t seem to know what’s going on. The cruise segment is unlike any other in the travel industry.

This is not the first time that cruise companies and even travel advisors selling cruises have complained about the level playing field that unfairly favors cruise companies compared to other segments of the hotel industry.

Before becoming CLIA’s Public Affairs Director from 2003 to 2006, I spent nearly 20 years as a trade journalist writing about the cruise industry. When I reported on the H1N1 outbreaks 10 years ago, I couldn’t help but notice that cruise ships were labeled as particularly dangerous when similar outbreaks were occurring all over the country.

One of the key differences is that cruise ships were (and are) required by CDC regulations to report even minor outbreaks. American hotels and resorts, on the other hand, have no such requirements, but few consumers are aware of this difference.

In fact, ignorance is probably a big part of the equation when it comes to the treatment of cruise lines. Cruise lines operate in an industry with multiple legal systems that can seem confusing.

For example, although the major cruise lines are based in the United States, almost all of them register their ships abroad in order to benefit from favourable tax scenarios. However, these same vessels are heavily regulated by a number of U.S. and foreign government and maritime agencies.

Cruise ships are also subject to unannounced health and safety inspections by the CDC, the results of which are made public. I have often found that cruise ships are by far the cleanest travel environment.

The emphasis on cleanliness on board existed long before the KOVID-19 pandemic, but those who have never been on a cruise are probably unaware of these and other aspects of a cruise vacation.

Despite evolving from a tourist niche in the 1980s to a mainstream vacation option today, more than two-thirds of Americans have never been on a cruise ship. Many of my fellow travel journalists have traveled the world without ever setting foot on a modern cruise ship.

Woman waiting for a cruise ship. (Photo via Lisa-Blue / E+)

Ignorance breeds contempt

So I think people who have never experienced a cruise ship can easily see them as floating, sedentary resorts for the elderly and wealthy, rather than the universal vacation experience they provide to an increasingly diverse audience of multigenerational travelers.

Similarly, I don’t think many people realize that there are hundreds of jobs and livelihoods associated with every cruise a ship calls. The industry supports approximately 450,000 jobs in the U.S. and contributes $55.5 billion to U.S. GDP annually, according to the CLIA.

Communities across the United States depend on cruise line revenues, including millions of dollars in local taxes and port fees. Meanwhile, hotels, restaurants and suppliers of transportation, goods and services are benefiting from cruise activity in American cities.

Of course, everything stopped with the end of the pandemic last March. More than a year later, the operators are waiting for the CDC to come to them. It’s not hard to understand their frustration. It is also possible that the CDC will actually implement its announced intention to recall CSOs in November.

Of course, the cruise lines aren’t waiting. Celebrity (St. Maarten), Crystal Cruises (Bahamas), Regent Seven Seas Cruises (Barbados) and Royal Caribbean Intl. (Bahamas and Bermuda) have announced departures from Caribbean ports for summer 2021.

The new routes mark the return of cruise ships to the industry’s main cruising area, although the CSO does not cover sailings from foreign ports.

This reminds me of another important difference between hotels and resorts and cruise ships that I learned while working at CLIA: Unlike resorts, cruise ships are mobile.

frequently asked questions

Will the 2021 cruises be cancelled?

All cruises to Asia, Australia and New Zealand have now been cancelled for the entire 2020-2021 cruise season, while sailings to South America have also been cancelled for the entire season until 7. April 2021.

Are cruise ships safe in rough seas?

Yes, cruise ships are designed to navigate rough seas. However, with regard to rough seas, the master will do his best to avoid bad weather by steering the vessel away from storms or rough seas as much as possible.

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