CDC Lifting Of No Sail Order No Cause For Celebration For Canadians – Or Perhaps Even Cruise Travel
Lynn Elmhirst, Open Jaw Trends Editor
Are we supposed to be cheering today?
Everyone in travel watched with baited breath as U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) ‘No Sail Order’ was set to expire yesterday on the last day of September.
The CDC had to decide whether to extend the No Sail Order affecting cruise ships sailing from American ports at all – and if so, how long to extend it.
That decision was not made in a vacuum.
In the days leading up to the expiry of the Order, cruise line employees marched with signs imploring the CDC to let them get back to work. And election year amplified political pressure on the CDC to allow resumption of this hugely significant sector in the key state of Florida, with the biggest cruise economy in the States, and where the response to the COVID-19 pandemic is among the weakest in the country. (Despite continuously rising numbers of cases, Florida’s Governor just days ago dropped all COVID-related restrictions on restaurants and other businesses.)
The cruise industry applied its own, more subtle pressure using logic and reason, with the announcement that CLIA member cruise lines had unanimously adopted a new set of mandatory protocols for safe sailing. The protocols were developed by medical and scientific professionals and include pre-embarkation testing for crew and guests, physical distancing or mask requirements, upgraded ventilation and medical capabilities onboard, as well as new shore excursion practices.
Against that backdrop, the CDC announced just hours before the current No Sail Order expired yesterday that the Order would be extended- but only by one month.
The new No Sail Order expires at the end of October, the same time CLIA cruise lines’ voluntary suspension of operations also expires.
Caribbean cruising from US ports could begin again by November, and the season could be at least partially saved.
Break out the champagne?
Not So Fast
Multiple reports indicate the CDC’s own experts and informed decision makers - even knowing about the cruise lines’ new mandatory health and safety protocols – wanted to extend the No Sail Order into February, 2021.
And that those CDC experts were overruled in a meeting with U.S. Vice-President Pence, ultimately resulting in the new October 31stdate, which – coincidentally? - comes just days before the U.S. election.
Here’s the thing: The real requirement of a return to cruising isn’t the physical or legal ability of ships to leave port.
Or even the intense desire among past cruise guests to start sailing again on their beloved ships.
It’s consumer confidence.
If political incumbents look like they’re ignoring their own government’s science experts to get a result to help their re-election chances…
And if the process of determining whether to resume sailing even looks like it was a political decision – by an administration who, according to the majority of its own citizens is not handling the pandemic well…
Does that send a message to consumers that their safety is the top priority? That cruising - especially from Florida – will truly be safe, even with the best intentions and new protocols of the cruise lines?
If consumers feel like the process was gamed, it could actually erode confidence – and undermine a return to cruising.
No Good News for Canadians
Not only could it backfire on the cruise industry, lifting the No Sail Order to allow for cruise ships to depart from U.S. ports at the end of October doesn’t do anything for Canadian cruise travellers or the travel advisor community.
The US/Canada border remains closed for non-essential travel – including tourism - and Canadians who do leave the country still face a 14-day quarantine when they return to Canada.
Until there are confidence-building measures in place that allow both of those restrictions to be lifted - and confidence in a safe return to sailing - dreams of Canadians returning to the waves will remain just that.
Doreen Lynch- October 1, 2020 @ 21:38
Thank you Lynn. I too have concern on the disregard of the CDC expert recommendations. This pressure will continue to build all month and I'm hopeful that all of the efforts of the cruise industry can be rolled out with the much needed consumer confidence. Not an easy fix for sure! We're all watching how the 'politics' play a role.
Brad Ford- October 1, 2020 @ 16:30
Great article, Lynn. Complex situation, and needs to be dealt with carefully to encourage consumer confidence.