Cruise lines met with Pence, but they could be looking to Biden for guidance

click to enlarge Cruise lines met with Pence, but they could be looking to Biden for guidance
Photo via Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons
While the ongoing global pandemic has impacted every corner of the economy, few have faced a more negative setback than the cruise industry. With most cruise lines shut down since the first quarter of this year, there was hope that a White House meeting with Vice President Mike Pence would bring some much-needed good news, but in the days since the discussion that has yet to happen.

The Oct. 9 meeting saw Pence joined by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield, two officials from the Department of Health and Human Services, and executives from every major cruise line. The official White House readout of the meeting presented a restrained optimism regarding when the $52 billion industry will reopen.

The readout included this note: “HHS Secretary Azar and CDC Director Redfield touched on their commitment to the collaborative effort that produced the Healthy Sail Panel’s 74 recommendations, and the Federal government’s support of the industry to safely and responsibly sail again, but cautioned that the cruise industry would have to backstop their venture to resume operations.”

Less than 72 hours after the call, Carnival Cruise Line canceled all November cruises out of PortMiami and Port Canaveral, the nation’s two busiest cruise ports – this despite no change in the CDC’s no-sail order that is currently slated to expire at the end of October. Most other cruise lines have already canceled November cruises; some even canceled December cruises.

Thanksgiving and the last two weeks of December are usually the busiest weeks of the year for the cruise industry, as travelers escape to the warm weather of the Caribbean for a winter vacation. The move to voluntarily cancel cruises the important November sailings may indicate that cruise lines are hesitant to move forward even if they receive approval from the current administration.
click to enlarge Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd’s new Miami HQ campus - Image via Royal Caribbean
Image via Royal Caribbean
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd’s new Miami HQ campus
Bruce Frommert, a cruise-focused travel vlogger, believes that this is the case. In a recent vlog discussing the canceled sailings, Frommert pointed to the Biden campaign’s call for more stringent COVID protocols. If Biden is elected in November, Frommert theorizes, this could result in a new no-sail order. If cruise lines had already brought back their staff and crew, it would result in millions of dollars in unnecessary costs. This theory is based in part on CDC recommendations leaked to multiple news agencies in late September.

In those recommendations, the CDC called for a ban until mid-February 2021 at the earliest. According to Axios, who was the first to report on the CDC proposal, Pence overruled the CDC Director Redfield’s recommendation. A Biden administration would likely rely more heavily on the CDC’s scientific-based recommendations, including no-sail orders.

With less than three weeks to go until the election, cruise lines may be in a holding pattern.

A handful of cruises have already resumed in Europe, though these are widely viewed as more of a proof of concept to test new safety protocols. But we may see a similar move in the U.S. with cruises from places with a better handle on the pandemic. Florida would obviously be be excluded, though, until they make significant progress in addressing the virus. This is especially important for foreign visitors who may be forced to quarantine for weeks if they visit a COVID-19 hotspot such as Florida.

While Trump may attempt to pressure cruise lines into announcing reopening plans ahead of the election with so much uncertainty heading into the spring, the only certainty for the industry appears to be uncertainty until further notice.

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