Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) representing 95 percent of global oceangoing cruise capacity, today announced that its CLIA Global Board unanimously voted to adopt mandatory core elements of a strong set of health protocols to be implemented as part of a phased-in, highly controlled resumption of cruise operations.
CLIA's press release said a critical next step, now that initial sailing has begun effectively with strict protocols in Europe, is the resumption of operations in the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America (the Americas), the world's largest cruise market for annual deployment.
Restart of U.S. Cruising?
The goal is the restart of limited operations in the Americas and, most importantly, operations related to U.S. ports. In its statement, CLIA said: "Initial cruises would sail on modified itineraries under stringent protocols that encompass the entirety of the cruise experience, from booking to debarkation. With support and approval of regulators and destinations, cruises could feasibly begin during the remainder of 2020."
The latter, though, would require approval from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which currently has a "No Sail Order" through September 30 for any cruises (with more than 250 passengers) that depart from U.S. ports; smaller ships are not impacted by that order.
In addition, the CDC has a public comment period which ends today, but the agency still must sift through and evaluate documents and data being submitted. But the recent success of MSC Cruises' successful operation in Europe has provided a good dose of optimism.
When the CDC does give approval for U.S. embarking cruises to resume, how long would it take for cruise lines to gear up for sailing. On a conference call briefing with Travel Agent and other publications earlier today, Arnold Donald, president and CEO, Carnival Corporation, told reporters that it could take "a good 30 days or so" with crew travel, training and testing requirements, That assessment was echoed by Pierfrancesco Vago, chairman, MSC Cruises, which has been operating in Europe for five weeks.
During the media briefing, Richard Fain, chairman and CEO, Royal Caribbean Group, stressed the importance of collaboration not competition by the various lines, while Frank Del Rio, president and CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, emphasized the importance of returning only when it's safe to do so.
CLIA officials also participated on that call and Travel Agent will outline more feedback and intel from the leaders in a separate story coming soon. But, for the first time throughout the pandemic, CLIA has adopted mandatory measures—including a 100 percent pre-embarkation testing requirement for both passengers ad crew members—which could help the CDC decide to lift that order and pave a path for lines to begin serving cruisers once again from U.S. ports.
Adam Goldstein, CLIA's global chairman, told reporters that "unlike any other sector of travel, every cruise line member of CLIA will test every guest and crew member."
According to CLIA, each day that U.S. cruise operations are suspended results n a loss of up to $110 million in economic activity and 800 direct and indirect American jobs. The impact of the suspension has been particularly profound in states that depend heavily on cruise tourism, including Florida, Texas, Alaska, Washington, New York and California.
New CLIA Protocols
With input from leading scientists, medical experts and health authorities, the core elements of the CLIA mandatory protocols for member lines have been gleaned from these efforts by CLIA member lines:
- Recommendations from the "Healthy Sail Panel" established by Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. with those results released today and submitted to the CDC
- MSC’s Blue Ribbon group
- Carnival Corporation’s collection of outside independent experts
- Effective protocols developed for the successful sailings in Europe by MSC Cruises, Costa, TUI Cruises, Ponant, Seadream and others
CLIA said its adoption of the new, initial protocols are a pathway to support a phased-in, highly-controlled return to passenger service in the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America. The protocols are designed to promote the health and safety of passengers, crew and the communities visited.
"The core elements mirror the successful resumption of cruising in other parts of the world and include 100 percent testing of passengers and crew prior to boarding—a travel industry first," CLIA said in its statement.
In addition, CLIA said core elements adopted by the board will be continuously evaluated and adjusted against the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the availability of new prevention and mitigation measures.
"The core elements, which are applicable to CLIA member oceangoing cruise ships subject to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 'No Sail Order,' will also be submitted by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) on behalf of its members in response to the CDC’s Request for Information (RFI) related to the safe resumption of cruise operations," the CLIA statement continued. CLIA’s response to the RFI also details other measures that address the entire cruise experience from booking to disembarkation.
"Highlights of the core elements include:
- Testing: 100 percent testing of passengers and crew for COVID-19 prior to embarkation
- Mask-Wearing: Mandatory wearing of masks by all passengers and crew onboard and during excursions whenever physical distancing cannot be maintained
- Distancing: Physical distancing in terminals, onboard ships, on private islands and during shore excursions
- Ventilation: Air management and ventilation strategies to increase fresh air onboard and, where feasible, using enhanced filters and other technologies to mitigate risk
- Medical Capability: Risk-based response plans tailored for each ship to manage medical needs, dedicated cabin capacity allocated for isolation and other operational measures and advance arrangements with private providers for shoreside quarantine, medical facilities and transportation
- Shore Excursions: Only permit shore excursions according to the cruise operators’ prescribed protocols with strict adherence required of all passengers and denial of re-boarding for any passengers that do not comply."
CLIA's press release said that implementation of these elements onboard every oceangoing ship subject to the CDC’s No Sail Order is mandatory and requires written verification of adoption by each company’s CEO. These elements do not preclude additional measures that may be adopted by individual lines.
Measures will be continuously evaluated and adjusted against the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the availability of new prevention and mitigation measures.
Feedback from Officials
Leaders representing governments, destinations, science and medicine responded as follows within CLIA's press release:
Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley, who co-chairs the Americas Cruise Tourism Task Force, said: “Cruise tourism is incredibly important to our regional economies and we are eager for its safe return to help revitalize our economies and share the beauty of our destinations. As part of the Americas Cruise Tourism Task Force, government leaders in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South America, have been working productively with the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA), CLIA, and the cruise lines to implement guidance for cruise resumption and good progress is being made.
"The cruise lines’ commitment to conduct 100 percent testing for all passengers and crew is significant and unique as compared to any other sector. Having this core element in place as part of an initial phase of operations adds a layer of confidence for us as we continue to work together developing guidelines and protocols so we may safely welcome cruising back to our regions.”
Mike Leavitt, co-chairman of the Healthy Sail Panel and former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), said: “The industry’s commitment to create best practices for mitigating the risk of SARS-CoV-2, is a necessary step. By embracing best practices to protect public health, cruise lines can provide a clear pathway for resuming operations in a way that safeguards the health of our guests, crew and communities.
"There have been many lessons learned and advances made by medicine and science over the past six months, and we need to continue to advance our approach going forward.”
Carlos Gimenez, mayor of Miami-Dade County in South Florida said: With development of these rigorous safety protocols, the cruise industry is once again demonstrating its leadership and commitment to public health in travel and tourism. Simply put, the cruise industry has taken such a thorough and comprehensive approach to caring for public health.
"Based on the effectiveness of the protocols implemented by CLIA members in Europe and other parts of the world, I am confident that a slow and gradual resumption of cruise operations in the Americas can be done responsibly in the coming months."
Christos Hadjichristodoulou, professor of hygiene and epidemiology, University of Thessaly in Greece said: “What we have seen is that when procedures are in place and they are rigorously followed, the risk is minimized. The core elements of the approach developed by the cruise industry which adopt scientific evidence-based E.U. guidelines for COVID-19, go further than I have seen in almost any other industry—and serve to demonstrate this industry’s commitment to upholding the highest standards of health and safety onboard ships and within the communities they visit."
"I am satisfied with the engagement of the cruise industry to follow the E.U. guidelines and impressed with the level of detail that has gone into the planning process. I look forward to continued progress as cruises resume on a limited basis with a phased-in approach.”
Gloria Guevara, president and CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council, said: “As the travel and tourism sector continues in its fight for survival, the cruise industry is proving the importance of testing as effective tool to resume travel. The core elements of the approach, developed by the cruise industry are in line with WTTC’s 'Safe Travels' protocols, which were designed to enable travelers to identify destinations around the world that have adopted our health and hygiene global standardized protocols. An industry wide testing program is the key to recovery and the cruise industry is leading by example—testing all passengers and crew prior to boarding.
She also said that WTTC was "impressed with the level of detail that has gone into the planning process and look forward to seeing the continued progress as cruises resume on a limited basis and phased-in approach.”
CLIA president and CEO Kelly Craighead added: “We recognize the devastating impact that this pandemic, and the subsequent suspension of cruise operations, has had on economies throughout the world, including the nearly half a million members of the wider cruise community and small businesses in the Americas who depend on this vibrant industry for their livelihoods. Based on what we are seeing in Europe, and following months of collaboration with leading public health experts, scientists, and governments, we are confident that these measures will provide a pathway for the return of limited sailings from the U.S. before the end of this year.”
According to CLIA’s most recent Economic Impact Study, cruise activity in the United States supported over 420,000 American jobs and generates $53 billion annually in economic activity throughout the country prior to the pandemic.
For more information, visit www.cruising.org.