When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an update to their conditional sail order last week, many thought it meant good news for the cruise industry. Upon closer look, the new protocols instituted by the CDC actually make life more difficult for cruise lines and put them further from their goal of sailing from American ports once again. Criticism came rolling in from all corners of the industry including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who previously threatened to sue the CDC if they wouldn’t let ships sail from Florida by July.
Norwegian Cruise Line President & CEO Harry Sommer joined Porthole Cruise Magazine founder and Editor-in-Chief Bill Panoff to discuss NCL’s return to cruising as well as his take on the new additions to the conditional sail order and what it means for industry.
Interview with NCL President & CEO Harry Sommer
The CDC has been a major player in the cruise industry shutdown for the past year and their announcement recently that travel is safe for fully vaccinated people was initially seen as a positive for the industry. However, Sommer explained that the CDC doesn’t hold the same opinion when it comes to cruise lines.
“It was the tale of two announcements on Friday. We were so elated in the morning on Friday when the CDC basically came out and said if you’re fully vaccinated, you’re good to travel. We said that’s great because we had been planning for a while to announce this week… that we were going to require 100% vaccinations for every passenger and every crew member,” Sommer said. “And then they kind of took the cruise industry to the side and said ‘except for you’ and I’ll tell you, the part that puzzles us is when you think of every other leisure activity out there – movies, bars, restaurants, theme parks, hotels, resorts, stadiums – everything out there is open. Everything is 100% open, yet none of them have the same strict protocols that we’re proposing.”
When asked about the CDC’s refusal to let ships operate from American ports, Sommer highlighted the successful sailings all over the world since last summer as proof that cruise lines can operate safely, particularly since America’s vaccine rollout has been so robust.
“The combination of cruise lines out there have moved over 400,000 guests since this summer, less than 50 cases, no outbreaks, all traced, no hospitalizations, no fatalities and that’s without vaccines so we’re pretty comfortable that with vaccines it will be safe. It’s interesting, that even there, the CDC, when they put together requirements they put a seven page checklist on what an agreement will look like, like the CDC understands our business, they don’t,” Sommer said.
One of the most head-scratching parts of the CDC’s new conditions for cruise lines is the use of embarkation/debarkation gangways. Cruise lines must not use the same one for embarking and disembarking guests in the same 12-hour period. Many have pointed out that airports currently use the same gangway for multiple planes from all over the world in the course of an hour or two, but the CDC doesn’t have a problem with it. When asked about the rule, Sommer didn’t mince his words.
“You know Bill, if I’m being perfectly honest, which I like to be, I think it’s borderline ridiculous,” Sommer said.
Based on comments from cruisers across social media, it’s clear that the public wants to sail again. Sommer let us know that despite the pandemic, cruisers are booking the return cruises in record numbers and that’s been a bright spot in what was a tough week for the industry.