The Royal Caribbean International cruise ship “Allure of the Seas” in Fort Lauderdale as seen from nearby Hollywood, Florida, November 11, 2010.
Joe Skipper | Reuters
The Delta variant is causing a resurgence of Covid-19 infections in the United States just as the cruise industry is ramping up after months of downtime.
While bookings for travel have been robust for the next year, the industry knows that conditions can deteriorate quickly, increasing the possibility that trips could be canceled.
At least one cruise line has reported that short-term travel bookings have declined as coronavirus cases have risen. And that was before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned on Friday that people in groups at risk for Covid-19 complications should avoid cruises regardless of their vaccination status. The new CDC guidelines followed the outbreaks of the virus in recent trips.
Federal Maritime Commissioner Louis Sola sat down with CNBC last week to discuss its investigation into Fact Finding 30 into the cruise industry’s cancellation policy during the pandemic. Sola launched the investigation in August 2020 to amend the FMC’s rules regarding cruise ship non-compliance and refunds for canceled trips.
In its proposal, Sola suggested that if a crossing is canceled or a passenger is delayed boarding by more than 24 hours for any reason other than a government order or declaration, a full refund must be made within 60 days of the passenger’s request for a refund. If the crossing is delayed or canceled by an official order, the full amount must be refunded within 180 days.
The exclusive interview also touched on other topics, including Covid security protocols.
CNBC: The cruise industry is sailing again and your investigation into cruise ship policies on canceled trips during the pandemic is pending. When will we learn more about the rulemaking process related to cruise ship performance and refunds? When do we see an update on this?
Alone: We should probably get an update earlier this week. Each cruise line had different policies, so we wanted to create a standardized system similar to that used in the airline industry. I hope this update will be available to the public shortly.
Once published, the public will have 60 days to comment on the proposal. The Commission will then examine the comments, adjust the language if necessary and take a final vote. It is important to note that every single vote on Fact Finding 30 was unanimous. I appreciate taking the lead in this investigation.
CNBC: Of all the cruise states, Alaska was hit hardest per capita. How badly has the state been hit since you published your report in the spring? This is money that can never be recovered.
Alone: We expect a loss of $ 3.3 billion in sales and more than $ 1 billion in unemployment paid during the pandemic. Local and state governments suffered an estimated $ 55 million in lost taxes.
When I visited Alaska, I went to the union house and the floor was swept. Florida’s loss was most numerical, but no state was hit harder per capita than Alaska.
I don’t think people know the impact of losing unpaid salaries, unsold goods, unsold services, and unsold taxes. When we stopped sailing it was a logistical and economic nightmare. One billion unemployment for a state with only 700,000 inhabitants is alarming.
CNBC: We’re seeing more Delta virus outbreaks on cruise lines like that Carnival cruise, where 27 vaccinated people tested positive. In a recent interview, Norwegian Cruise Line holdings CEO Frank Del Rio said the surge in Delta variants is hurting customer confidence and causing some to cancel. How does the cruise industry ensure that public cruises are safe?
Alone: It is true that we occasionally see breakthrough cases on board ships. One ship, as you mentioned, recently had 27 vaccinated people who tested positive. But the ship was and we are prepared for such eventualities.
The most important thing we have is the agreement between the cruise industry and the health authorities. We have a plan. What we see here is that the process is working properly when herd immunity is established on a ship.
We also have a plan when we have a serious illness. We now have the opportunity to get this person off the ship immediately. It was a disaster in the early days of the pandemic when we kept these passengers on the ships.
We have similar health and safety protocols from the Cruise Lines International Association and the Passenger Vessel Association. They were both of great help in the early stages of Fact Finding 30.
Some cruise lines have gone beyond these measures. As an industry, they all have good consumer standards. The most important measure we prescribe is that 95% of the passengers on the ship are vaccinated. Herd immunity is key.
I feel a lot safer on a cruise ship than when I fly. I’m not knocking on your flight, but you have more people with unknown vaccination status at an airport. You breathe recycled air in a confined space.
CNBC: What about Disney Cruise? They have a targeted passenger population that cannot be vaccinated because of their age. How do they achieve herd immunity?
Alone: That is a concern that they are trying to address. You have a segment of the market that makes it difficult. but [Disney] has some experience in this area that they have gained from their theme park operations. Perhaps they will reduce the number of people on board so that they will be vaccinated more to achieve herd immunity.
CNBC: You have been vocal about the distribution of excess vaccines to seafarers and our neighboring cruise ports in the Caribbean and Bahamas. What’s next?
Alone: I wrote two letters to the President [Joe] Biden on this important topic. I also went straight to the Florida, Texas and Alaska governors and they donated excess vaccines. We work with the consuls general of the embassies of the Dominican Republic, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas. We have seen some difficulty getting vaccines due to HHS requirements, but those vaccines reach seafarers.
CNBC: There was an indecent from recently royal caribbean Passengers who are not allowed on a ship because they are not vaccinated. Is it the passenger’s responsibility to visit the cruise line’s website to see the requirements?
Alone: It’s up to the consumer to know each cruise line’s Covid policy. It is very important for them to know that 99% of cruise traffic is international and all countries have their own vaccination protocols. It is at the discretion of the foreign destination whether passengers and crew members should be vaccinated prior to their arrival in their country. The shipping companies are very good at formulating their requirements. It’s like an airline website. They also published their requirements. This needs to be considered as part of the boarding process.
CNBC: The CDC has one too Color code system Monitoring of the ship status. There is a lot of information for consumers.
Alone: We live in an information age and have found the color code system very useful. We have been using this color code system for 18 months. The industry is doing what it can to ensure health awareness.
Bottom line: if you get sick and are vaccinated, symptoms should be mild. If you are not vaccinated, you will receive proper care.
Responding to the sick was the theme at the start of the pandemic for the cruise industry. The industry now has a detailed plan. We as a nation have to live with Covid in all areas of life. Being prepared is the key to this.