Advocating for travel advisors, engaging the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for upcoming, high-level strategic discussions, and resuming service "when it's safe to do so," were among the key topics Adam Goldstein, global chair, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) spoke about in a media briefing Tuesday morning.
Joined by Kelly Craighead, CLIA's president and CEO, he said, "Here we are in the most unique moments in the extraordinary history of the cruise industry," noting that while the industry has been through a lot of challenges in the past, it's never been through anything like this. “But we are resilient people, experienced people, determined people, and we expect to make our way through this COVID-19 pandemic as we have made our way through other crises and challenges," Goldstein stressed to reporters, providing these key points in a 20-minute presentation.
Cruise Industry Resilience: The cruise industry has demonstrated that it's "incredibly resilient," Goldstein said, adding that CLIA member lines have "already shown a huge amount of financial dexterity to improve their position beyond what anyone thought was possible six months ago."
A Global Challenge: The challenge is global, he acknowledged, noting that it's "an issue everywhere that we have traditionally operated all at the same time, as it is for the entire world of travel and tourism.” He said that CLIA is working to the best of its ability to engage with governments across the globe.
"There are various scenarios that have unfolded from country to country, authority to authority," Goldstein said. "We have tried to be as responsible as we know how to be in underscoring at all times that the health and safety of our guests and of our crew are of paramount importance to us."
Restarting Operations: CLIA recently extend its voluntary suspension of cruise operations to September 15, which the CDC later expanded with a "No Sail Order" through September 30. Goldstein said that restarting with guest operations can only happen when everyone is confident that the industry has the right approach to maximize the health and wellbeing of anyone who is onboard the industry's ships.
"Even the acute sensitivity of the timing aspect, [the industry's desire to get back to cruising as soon as possible] has to take a backseat to being highly confident that we can mitigate the spread of the virus ... control it, keep people as healthy as possible, to care for anyone who needs to be taken care of," he said.
Goldstein also cautioned journalists “not to read too much into any particular date, always bearing in mind that we will operate when it’s the right thing to do.
Optimism Prevails: But he also said that "fact that we begin to converge makes us more optimistic that the kind of engagement that we’re looking for and the relationship with the CDC as our regulator will begin in the near future and will allow their experts, our experts, our operations personnel, our leaders, their leaders to have the kind of dialogue that will eventually result in a safe and successful resumption of service.”
The efforts are international in scope. While CLIA has had discussions over the past six months with CDC officials, it's hoping for more strategic, ongoing, high-level discussions in the coming weeks.
European Situation: Goldstein said there's been a tremendous amount of industry dialogue in Europe. In recent days, Germany also green-lighted cruising in a limited way. Cruise ships can now depart Germany—not stop anywhere but sail around and then return to Germany.
Typically, only German citizens (or in the case of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises' recent announcement, also citizens of Austria or Switzerland) are permitted onboard.
While that's "incredibly restrictive," it's still "a huge advance," said Goldstein, who added that something similar is going happening in Norway, too. Beyond what's happening in those two specific countries, Goldstein said the European Union (E.U.) through several channels "has engaged with us fairly intensively through multiple rounds of discussion."
Goldstein said the goal has been to work toward E.U. guidance permitting national regulators to adopt appropriate regulations, which in combination with the cruise industry's protocols, could put other countries in a position to restart under limited conditions too.
"We can’t say when any other country will agree to do something of that sort or how similar it will be, but we are optimistic that more European countries in the near term will begin limited cruise operations," Goldstein told reporters.
A Sequential Restart: For several months, CLIA has expected that "cruising would restart in a kind of sequential manner—a little bit more here, a little bit different there, as different countries and regions around the world get comfortable," Goldstein said. He also stressed that this process isn't happening in a vacuum, as countries and regions must evaluate what’s happening in their societies from a public health and other standpoints. That directly impacts how they view cruising and all of travel and tourism.
"So, we expect to go faster in some places, slower in others in restarts," he noted. At the same time, Goldstein said the U.S. as a source market and the Caribbean, Alaska, Mexico and Bermuda as destination markets are "central to the welfare of the cruise industry and in the center of our radar, if you will, in terms of where the most effort is going."
That's reflected in what major cruise companies have done individually and together—such as the "Healthy Sail Panel" put together by Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings—by engaging with epidemiologists, infectious disease specialists and other specialists, to devise the best protocols moving forward.
Policy Development: "What CLIA expects to emerge with over the course of time—meaning the weeks and few months ahead—is one or more policies consistent with our policy approach to the business generally speaking," Goldstein said.
Currently, CLIA has a compendium of industry policy, a set of policies or standards that every member line's CEO and general counsel must accept. In addition, the classification society that vets the line must also attest that the cruise line is at or above compliance with these policies that range across safety, security, public health, medical and so forth.
"So, we we expect—and we’re optimistic—that eventually one or more policies will emerge related to the pandemic that will be included going forward in the compendium of policy," Goldstein said. "And that policy we would expect would be global in nature.”
Together and Separately: But he also acknowledged that much is going on—some things as an industry, others on an individual line basis. "And we have a way to go before we can emerge in the unified policy manner that certainly Kelly and I had in mind to achieve," he acknowledged.
"Some of you may ask why you did it this way, and I guess my answer would be that 'we have tried to work with the member cruise lines, whether it’s at the executive committee level or whether it’s all levels of membership to be as supportive as we possibly can,'" he said.
He continued: "In some cases, the members are very keen for CLIA to take the lead," while in other cases, individual members lines have opted to take the lead themselves.
The Ultimate Goal: CLIA's goal is emerge from the ongoing discussions and processes "with a unified approach policy-wise across the association that all member lines will sign up for," said Goldstein, "but I cannot tell you when that will occur, and I can’t tell you all the steps that will get us from here to there in order for it to occur."
Key Points: Certainly, CLIA hopes to engage with the CDC at the strategic level and as soon as possible. But while its members are keen to operate their cruise ships as soon as possible, "we will only operate when it makes sense to do so," he stressed. "The timing will be a function of getting this right."
Supporting the Distribution System: "We're very connected to our travel distribution system—without whom we don't have a business," he explained to reporters. So, CLIA will continue to advocate for travel advisors in Washington D.C. or anywhere else it can think to do so "to get them as much distressed industry relief" as possible, based on what Goldstein described as "horrifying economic circumstances.
Cruise Industry Job Losses: "While I continue to say that we need to operate when it’s right to do so, we are not unmindful of the fact that we are probably losing about 800 jobs per day that this is going on—in the United States alone," he said.
The cruise industry contributes a $50-plus billion economic contribution to the United States economy. Goldstein cited that as roughly one-quarter of one percent of the nation's economy. To that he said: "And it hurts. It hurts everybody in it and it hurts the families of the people who are in it and it just basically is painful."
He expressed appreciation for travel advisors, suppliers, tour operators, ports and others who have rallied to support the cruise industry and expressed faith in what Goldstein described as "the industry’s 50-year history of top level sanitization procedures."
He also said these people understand that the reporting regime the cruise industry lives in on a regular basis is unlike that required of any other mode of travel. "That's why people including the CDC and other authorities know so much more about what’s happening on our ships than they know about airplanes, hotels, and any other mode of travel," he said.
The Small/Medium Businesses: CLIA has many allies pushing for it, according to Goldstein, while at the same time, CLIA is pushing the U.S. government and other governments to get the maximum relief for these cruise-related businesses, many small and medium enterprises.
"I know it’s natural—almost like a gravitational force—to think of Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, MSC and Disney, when you think about the cruise industry and they’re big companies," Goldstein said, stressing that most cruise-related companies aren't the same level as those giants. While definitely not discounting the serious impact of the pandemic on those companies, he said: "Most small companies are truly fundamentally challenged right now to make it through to the other end of this process, and we want them to have as much assistance as possible and we’ll continue to fight for that."