Trade Executives Sound Off About CLIA's New Health Protocols

Cruise ships docked in St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands
(Photo by sorincolac/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images) Cruise ships are shown at St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands, a popular port of call on voyages from U.S. East Coast and Gulf of Mexico ports

Several top travel trade leaders—Alex Sharpe, Drew Daly, John Lovell and Michelle Fee—sounded off this week about what Cruise Lines International Association's (CLIA) new health and safety protocols could mean for the potential restart of cruising from U.S. ports.

Those core elements are designed to keep passenger and crew safe in a COVID-19 era, and could convince the CDC to lift the "No Sail Order." The executives also said they believe the unified approach will inspire consumer confidence in cruise safety. 

Core Elements, Yet Flexibility

"I am excited to see the core elements submitted to the CDC but, even more, I am inspired to see the brilliant minds of this industry come together with one united set of 'minimum standards," said Alex Sharpe, president and CEO, Signature Travel Network.

Alex Sharpe

Alex Sharpe is shown above at a past travel industry event. // Photo by Signature Travel Network. 

Equally important, he said was that "these protocols also allow each cruise line the flexibility to adapt their own additional enhancements unique to their ships and passenger demographics."

Overall, the approach taken by CLIA "will create consistency across the industry," according to Sharpe: "That is so key for advisors as they explain new measures to their clients throughout the selling process."

Possible Green Light 

"This is a great sign to begin the recovery for the cruise industry," says Drew Daly, senior vice president/general manager, Dream Vacations, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. "The protocols that were unveiled are a first step in bringing cruising back and providing a picture of what life will be like once cruising begins to return."

He believes the new CLIA protocols will help advisors in answering these kinds of consumer questions: "What is life onboard going to be like when cruising returns?  What is going to happen when the cruise lines visit a port? Can passengers get off the ship?"

Celebrity Edge Iconic Suite Drew Daly Photo courtesy of Dream Vacations Editorial Use Only
Daly checking out one of the features in Celebrity
Edge's Iconic Suite. // Photo by Dream Vacations

"The information shared from CLIA is providing us all with a peek behind the curtain," he said, noting that the next step is to begin educating both travel advisors and customers.

"Consumers need to be reassured that cruising is safe and these protocols begin to paint that picture," Daly said. 

He also believes advisors will begin to see more new cruise business and rebookings from customers who were holding off booking a cruise.

Moving forward, Daly says marketing messaging will likely be two-fold—focusing on safety and health protocols onboard cruise ships in this new environment as well as the "tremendous value" a cruise vacation provides.

Most notably, the new protocols may allow the CDC to lift the "No Sail Order," with Daly stating: "It will definitely help cruise lines obtain a green light quicker to being sailing from U.S. ports later this year or in early 2021.

Inspiring Confidence 

Calling CLIA's newly adopted protocols "a very good coordinated effort," John Lovell, president, Travel Leaders Group, said it "shows that CLIA and the cruise lines are united in what they want to do and that the safety of their crew and passengers is paramount." 

Roger Block and John Lovell at the Travel Leaders EDGE Conference

During a trade conference, John Lovell is shown above (at right) with Roger Block, president of Travel Leaders Network. // Photo by Travel Leaders Group

Lovell pointed out that cruise lines have invested considerable time and effort consulting with top health and safety experts to develop these protocols. 

"This consistency will inspire confidence among all consumers and helps the travel advisor," Lovell emphasizes, noting that advisors will know what their customers are going to experience and can easily communicate that to clients.

Closer to Sailing

Representing 2,500 travel advisors, Michelle Fee, CEO and founder, Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative, was excited "that we are hopefully very close to seeing ships sail in U.S. waters again."

Michelle Fee Frank Del Rio Cruise Planners Luxury Forum Editorial Use Only Photo Courtesy of Cruise Planners

Fee is shown in the photo above with Frank Del Rio, president and CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. Photo courtesy of Cruise Planners

"It's imperative that the industry begins to rebuild as soon as possible, and we are proponents of a science-based, phased-in, approach to ensure the wellbeing of guests, crew, and destination ports," Fee noted.

She said Cruise Planners plans to provide additional training and informational sessions for its network of travel advisors. That will help advisors as they move forward in explaining the protocols to clients, who, in turn, will be well-versed in what's expected prior to boarding a ship. 

"While the protocols will be new to guests sailing on cruise ships, we believe cruisers will be thrilled to be able to resume cruise vacations hopefully very soon," Fee emphasized.

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