A lot of the action in the cruise industry of late is not happening on the water. Instead, the focus is on state and national legislative bodies, where key decisions are being made that will impact the industry’s future.
Two decisions came down yesterday, one that can be viewed as a partial win for the cruise industry, the other a not-unexpected loss.
In the U.S. Senate, the Careful Resumption Under Improved Safety Enhancements (CRUISE) Act — designed to essentially override the Conditional Sailing Order put in place by the CDC — was derailed by Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat representing the state of Washington, home to the important cruise port of Seattle.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Florida Senator Rick Scott, expressed his disappointment, reiterating his belief that the CDC was not treating the cruise industry fairly. He responded on Twitter: “More than 300,000 jobs have been lost in the… cruise industry shutdown, and Democrats don’t care.”
Representatives Don Young and María Elvira Salazar have introduced similar legislation in the House of Representatives that will be considered at a later date.
“There’s Cruising All Over The Rest Of The World”
In his comments to Senate colleagues, Scott argued that “there’s cruising all over the rest of the world.” He added: “My colleagues and I are simply asking the CDC to provide a timeline of when the cruise industry can begin to open like so many other sectors, and the CRUISE Act ensures they can do that in a safe manner.”
In objecting to the proposed bill, Senator Murray had this to say: “Cruise ships require specific focus and protocols in place to prevent future outbreaks. While I am as eager as anyone else to see a return to travel, we cannot cut corners. Doing so risks lives and will only further delay returning to normal, hurting our economy more in the long run.”
Anyone closely following the industry knows that putting “specific focus and protocols in place to prevent future outbreaks” has been the singular mission for cruise operators over the past year.
Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings created the Healthy Sail Panel, a group of medical and scientific experts, to do just that.
Vaccines Have Changed The Landscape
The result was a report that made 74 recommendations focusing on five key areas regarding ways to prevent infections from being brought on board and, in a worst-case scenario, how to deal with any health crisis which might arise during a sailing. That report was released last September. Since then, several vaccines have been proven effective and approved — and more than 50 percent of American adults have received the first dose.
More recently, Norwegian Cruise Line submitted its own restart plan to the CDC. It would require all passengers on early sailings to be fully vaccinated, and ships would relaunch at significantly lowered capacity, increasing over time as the safety of sailing is demonstrated. The CDC has yet to respond to Norwegian’s proposal.
Overturning The Key West Vote
Meanwhile, in Scott’s home state, the epicenter of the global cruise industry, the Florida Senate voted to overturn a November 2020 vote by the residents of Key West.
On three ballot questions, a significant majority of Key West citizens voted to restrict the number of daily cruise ship visitors, ban vessels carrying more than 1,300 passengers, and prioritize docking for cruise lines with the best health and environmental records.
A similar version of the bill to overturn the Key West vote is pending in the Florida House. If passed, as expected, the bill would then go to Governor Ron DeSantis. Based on his support for the cruise industry, he is in turn expected to sign the bill into law.
While this can be seen as a ‘win’ for the industry, the fact remains that many local people are concerned about the impact of large cruise ships on a fragile ecosystem, and the influx of thousands of visitors on a daily basis. Those who rely on those visitors for their income are on the other side of the issue.
A positive relationship between cruise lines and the places they visit is important for both parties, so it is hoped that at some point, a mutually beneficial compromise can be reached.