UPDATE May 20, 2021: The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed H.R. 1318: The Alaska Tourism Recovery Act. The bill will now head to the desk of President Joe Biden for approval.
Alaskan Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan have been vocal over the past few weeks about the urgent need to address Canada’s cruise ship ban and we finally have something to cheer about. The Alaska Tourism Recovery Act unanimously passed the United States Senate on Thursday and it could mean that cruises will be able to bypass Canadian ports on Alaskan cruises this summer. The bill will now go to the U.S. House of Representatives for approval and will need to be signed by President Joe Biden before it goes into effect.
The new act would exempt cruise ships from the Passenger Vessel Services Act until February 2022, when Canada’s ban on cruise ships is set to expire. The Passenger Vessel Services Act prohibits vessels not registered in the United States to embark and debark guests at two different American ports.
“This has been a struggle to get everyone pulling together, but I think we are at a place where there is a glimmer of hope for Alaska’s tourism industry,” Murkowski told the Senate chamber.
Small cruise lines like UnCruise Adventures have been able to restart in the state thanks to smaller ships which fall below the CDC’s 250 passenger threshold for the conditional sail order, but larger cruise lines have not. Estimates from the Cruise Lines International Association of Alaska last year place the lost revenue for the state at $800 million in 2020.
CDC’s Cruise Rules Still in Place
The new act doesn’t mean that cruise ships can start up right away in Alaska. They still need to adhere to the CDC’s processes and protocols for a resumption of operation. There’s also the logistics of staffing and repositioning ships to the region, which many cruise operations saw as a lost cause earlier this year.
The CDC recently updated their protocols and procedures for simulated voyages, though if cruise lines ensure that 95% of passengers on board are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, then no simulated voyages are necessary.
Alaska’s Lost Cruise Season
Last year, we highlighted the story of Holly Johnson, the owner and operator of Wings Airways, a popular sea plane excursion in Juneau, Alaska. Holly made it clear that her business was in dire straits without cruise passengers to the state as they make up the majority of her revenue.
“Cruise ships and cruisers. It’s a majority of it, we’re nothing without them. So our business does not exist in the year 2020,” she said. “We will have no business. Not one paying customer,” Holly said.
With the Alaskan cruise season for 2021 in doubt over the past few months, the news that cruise ships could possibly be sailing again is sure to be welcome news for Wings Airways and all the other excursions, restaurants and shops in and around Alaskan cruise ports.