Holland America President Discusses Canada and the Cruise Line’s 2021 Return to Alaska
When discussing 2021, agents say one concern of customers is the risk that Alaska does not materialize for the coming season as hoped for.
"It's definitely an issue," said one industry observer. "The problem at the moment is there are so many variables that it's very difficult to predict.
"All Seattle calls have to go to Canada. And certainly, when you put Canada, which has been quite conservative around COVID, in the picture it puts Alaska more at risk than your U.S.-based homeport operating itineraries that don't involve any Canadian calls."
"Quite frankly though," he continued, "there's a lot of uncertainty everywhere."
With that cheery thought in mind, Cruise Week asked Holland America Line President Gus Antorcha to specifically address the issues surrounding Alaska's return to service.
Back in September Antorcha had said, "We will be full force in Alaska in the '21 season with our planned deployment of six ships."
This week in an updated interview with Cruise Week, Antorcha reiterated that confidence about Alaska materializing and then addressed the concerns.
"Alaska," he said, "is simpler than most other destinations, in that you're basically dealing with two countries and then a series of ports all within one state."
First, there are only two homeports. "Basically, we're going to be working with authorities in Canada for the departing port of Vancouver and authorities in Washington state for Seattle," said Antorcha.
As for ports of call, "We're working with the state of Alaska and local municipalities and the local authorities to then make sure we can operate in all those ports," he noted.
Cruise execs make it clear that the Jones Act won't change, so a prime issue with resumption of Alaska sailings is working with and getting approval from Canadian officials. We asked Antorcha how communications with Canadian authorities are going.
He replied that Canada is hard to project right now because of the current COVID levels in North America: "What we're seeing right now, because both countries are in the middle of a large spike, is that governments and regulators and authorities are just trying to manage to keep people safe.
"And yes, Canada has been conservative, but so has the state of California and the state of Washington.
We then asked Antorcha about homeporting in Seattle. He replied: "We're headquartered in Seattle. They clearly want us back. The economic impact is real.
"Yes, Seattle is quite diversified—you have Microsoft, Amazon, and Starbucks—but for the jobs that rely on the cruise industry, last summer was difficult. In Alaska, the lack of cruising was certainly felt and those communities were hit hard.
"So, everyone's motivated to get us going. But we've got to follow the protocols.
"Everyone has to be comfortable: CDC, Health Canada, the Canadian authorities, the ports, those communities. So we need to balance all the various stakeholders."
Based on all of his conversations with concerned parties, Antorcha feels there's a lot of support for a return "at the right moment when the communities are comfortable."
He elaborated: "Vaccines just started. Hopefully, that marks the beginning of the end. Although it will be a very tough couple of months given what we read, the vaccines are a step in the direction that we need to go.
"Everyone's focused on that spring timeframe when hopefully we'll be back."