Those involved with the cruise industry are frustrated. They’ve watched airlines, restaurants, hotels, theme-parks all open back up in Florida as they have remained anchored, awaiting approval from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to give the okay to sail again.
This frustration was expressed by industry leaders from Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Lines and Disney as well as those from the support industries like warehouse owners and travel agents as they gathered around Governor Ron DeSantis for a round-table discussion at Port Canaveral today.
Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Harry Sommers said its ships have been operating in ten regions across the world since last fall with no COVID outbreaks.
“It is safe to sail again,” he said.
Rick Sasso, CEO of MSC Cruises, said his cruise company has operated outside of the U.S. since August 2020 and had over 55,000 passengers sail with them with zero COVID cases.
“You are safer on a cruise ship than in the local supermarket,” he said.
He laid out his company’s COVID protocols which were developed through a partnership with other cruise lines and which involve multiple testing of both passengers and staff. “ We’re ready and we’ve proven it,” he said. “We’re ready for North America and Florida to come back to life again.
Carnival Cruise Lines’ President Christine Duffy concurred, ““We have many of our sister brands that are sailing very successfully around the world. We need some movement, some direction (from the CDC).”
But she went further saying while Carnival has no plans to move ships out of Florida, she hopes the state opens back up before they have to reconsider.
As it stands now, the CDC’s conditional sail order is set to expire in November but those at the roundtable shared their desperation to open by July.
DeSantis stated that he would like to see cruises resume operations by the end of June.
“It should not be any later than the end of June, that is totally reasonable,” he said. “Look, the only way it won’t be in great shape is if you don’t think the vaccines work. I mean, that’s the only way, at this point, you could say — fast-forwarding a few months into the future — that somehow you think that this is not going to be even better than it is now.”
‘We want a way forward,” he said.
With the governor was Florida’s Attorney General Ashley Moody.
Moody told those gathered, “I will take all legal action as necessary. We expect (the CDC) to take action swiftly and if they don’t Florida will follow through.”
But DeSantis says he hopes it won’t come to that.
“We need and want to work with them,” he said. He promised he will appeal to the CDC to get the ports open again and called on them to rescind its no-sail order.
On March 14, the nation marked its one-year anniversary of the CDC’s no-sail order. A September 2020 report from the Federal Maritime Commission estimated that during the first six months of the pandemic, losses in Florida due to the cruise industry shutdown totaled $3.2 billion in economic activity, including 49,500 jobs paying $2.3 billion in wages. In addition, Florida saw wide-ranging indirect impacts throughout the state – from airports and ground transportation to hotels, restaurants, and tourist destinations.
The COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on the cruise industry are part of a larger struggle facing the entire travel industry, which ended 2020 with $1.1 trillion in losses, a 42 percent drop from 2019.
The industry leaders said that cruise lines employ about 150,000 Floridians and estimated that 80 percent, or about 120,000, are still unemployed. But each one of them said once the okay to launch again is issued, they expect to be able to hire back all those workers.
The federal government has provided guidance to all other passenger transportation modes and other industries; however, it has failed to issue guidance for the cruise industry to assist in its recovery.
In addition to the lack of guidance, the federal government has neglected to provide relief funding to seaports while airports and transit agencies have received assistance through previous relief packages. Earlier this month, Governor DeSantis recommended Florida’s seaports receive $258.2 million out of the state’s share of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, to account for the losses accrued due to the no-sail order.
DeSantis said. “The cruise industry is essential to our state’s economy and keeping it shut down until November would be devastating to the men and women who rely on the cruise lines to provide for themselves and their families. I urge the CDC to immediately rescind this baseless no-sail order to allow Floridians in this industry to get back to work.”