CLIA's Top Executives Show Path to Resumption of U.S. Cruising

Ship arriving to the port.
(Courtesy of Celebrity Cruises) Celebrity Edge is shown sailing into Port Everglades, FL. Cruise Lines International Association has just adopted new mandatory elements of a safety protocol that it hopes will help open up all US ports once again to cruise operations.

In a press briefing on Monday, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) executives were joined by the industry's top cruise lines executives to talk about new mandatory protocols that will—hopefully—create a path to CDC for approval of cruising from U.S. ports

In Part 1 of our coverage, we take a look at what CLIA officials and a trade executive from Nexion had to say about the opportunity, the importance of the resumption of cruising and the steps to be taken. In Part 2, we'll look at what executives of the "Big Four" cruise lines had to say, as well as additional trade feedback about the CLIA action. 

A Path to Cruise Resumption

"Obviously, we’re all devastated by what has transpired in the world, the country and the travel and tourism business over these months with the pandemic," said Adam Goldstein, CLIA's global chair. "This is is a very auspicious day in terms of the effort that the cruise sector with all of its supporters and its ecosystem have put in to get to this moment."

Goldstein said that through significant consultation with experts throughout science and medicine and with "tremendous learning about the virus over these months, we are in a position to announce the mandatory core elements of health protocols that we see as a path to a phased resumption of oceangoing cruise operations in the Americas." 

One highlight? Goldstein said that CLIA believes "100 percent testing of guests and crew prior to embarkation...is a travel industry first and shows the degree of collaboration and effort—intense effort—that has gone on across all of CLIA's cruise line members and within the CLIA team itself."

The goal is for "a healthy restart," said Goldstein, and to help the economy at the same time, with cruising "being directly or indirectly responsible for over 400,000 jobs in the United States with an economic benefit of over $50 billion." But Goldstein stressed that it "can only come back if we’re doing the right things in the right way at the right time."

Laying Out the Core Elements 

Brian Salerno, CLIA's senior vice president of maritime policy and a retired vice admiral in the U.S. Coast Guard, laid out the specifics of the CLIA's mandatory safety protocols. At present, these include "several core elements that will form a more fully flushed out industrywide policy which we will complete in the near future," said Salerno. While the full plan is not complete, "the core elements, however, are significant, because they represent agreement on some of the most difficult issues," he emphasized.

"With these now settled, the pathway to initial resumption in the US is made more clear, Salerno said. Here's what the core elements entail.

Testing: One core element is testing, and CLIA has instituted a 100 percent testing policy for COVID-19 prior to embarkation; that applies to both passengers and crew. 

"Crew, in fact, will undergo up to three tests before being allowed to work on a cruise ship," said Salerno. "So this commitment to 100 percent testing is arguably one of the more significant statements we can make about how cruising will be different upon resumption in the U.S. and in the Americas."

Exterior view of the MSC Grandiosa Exterior Editorial

The MSC Grandiosa, the cruise line's first ship to resume cruising in Europe // Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises 

To that effect, mandatory testing has already been in place for MSC Cruises' resumption of cruises in Italy, and now the line is expanding itineraries to include more Mediterranean ports. 

Face Masks: Salerno also said that the mandatory wearing of face masks (whenever physical distancing cannot be maintained) is also a core element. This also applies to all passengers and crew. 

"In fact, crew will be required to wear face masks at all times when working in food and beverage service and in any other situations where their duties require regular interaction with passengers," Salerno told reporters. 

Physical Distancing: Closely associated with wearing masks is physical distancing, so Salerno stressed that "for ships operating from the U.S., we would follow the CDC’s guidelines, which requires six feet of distance." 

To help accomplish that, CLIA member lines could employ a number of methods, including reducing the overall passenger capacity; reducing the capacity of onboard venues, such as restaurants, bars and theaters; and adjusting flow patterns for how passengers move throughout the ship.

Ventilation: CLIA also has included a core element related to ventilation. "This pertains to putting air management strategies in place to reduce the risk of airborne transmission of the virus by increasing fresh air into heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and where feasible, using advanced filters or other technologies," Salerno said. 

Medical/Public Health: CLIA's measures will include prompt reporting of any illness or symptoms to the medical team onboard, coupled with onboard surveillance measures such as temperature checks to aid in early detection of a person with symptoms.

"Medical teams will be augmented beyond the current staffing levels," Salerno added, pointing out that all CLIA member [oceangoing] cruise ships already have a hospital onboard with a full-time medical team.

Salerno said the lines will have the capability to test anyone who is expected of having COVID-19 and there will be predesignated isolation rooms for confirmed cases and quarantine procedures for suspected cases or any close contacts.

"Now, in the event of a confirmed case, the medical priority will likely be to disembark that person as soon as it is safe and reasonable to do so and to transfer them to an appropriate treatment facility," he said. 

Pre-arranged Logistics: It's important to have prearranged logistics for the safe, expeditious management of confirmed cases, Salerno emphasized, noting that this step "requires agreements in advance with ports and destinations where cruise ships intend to operate."

Shore Excursions: Shore excursions are one of the many reasons that people enjoy cruising, Salerno believes, "but here the idea, quite simply, is to only permit shore excursions authorized by the cruise line to preserve the desired level of protection.

Building Blocks 

"So these are initial resumption measures," said Salerno. "They are the building blocks of our forthcoming industry-wide policy and they are intended to be adjusted over time as conditions change." 

Salerno's boss, Kelly Craighead, president and CEO of CLIA hosted the press briefing, and put the economic picture in focus, telling reporters that CLIA represents more than 90 percent of ocean capacity for cruise lines as well as 45,000 travel agents across North America and has many industry suppliers and partners.

"Today is the great day in the cruise industry," she said. "We're excited about the work that's going on." 

Trade Feedback 

Travel Agent asked many consortia and host and franchise executives, as well as front-line sellers about what they think of the CLIA developments. We'll be running this feedback throughout the week and in our Cruise Chatter column next Monday. 

"Although the cruising experience may look different for a while, it's a small price to pay to ensure that the industry can safely resume in a phased approach," says Jackie Friedman, president, Nexion Travel Group. She told us that the enormous efforts put forth by the industry and the adoption of CLIA's new core elements will help "assure both the CDC and the traveling public that the return to service has been well thought out in terms of health and safety."

That said, Friedman adds: "It will be critical for travel advisors to set the right expectations with their customers to ensure they are aware of some of the changes both onboard and in destination that may impact the cruise experience.

In addition, she believes it's even more critical for cruise lines to enforce these protocols, so that guests take them seriously. "Education is the key here—for both advisors and cruise lines," Friedman believes. "Cruisers will need to to understand why these new protocols are important and how they contribute to having a safe vacation that at its heart is still the cruising they know and love."

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