Cruise ships banned from Canadian waters for another year?
Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra’s order that prohibits large cruise vessels from entering Canada until February 28, 2022, is something Allan Brooks, National Director of Markets Sales at Celebrity Cruises Canada, calls “disappointing news.”
“Yesterday’s news was certainly sad to hear and another blow to the travel industry,” Brooks told PAX on Friday (Feb. 5). “We know this is disappointing news, particularly as it relates to the Alaska cruise season.”
Announcing yet another setback for Canada’s travel industry, Minister Alghabra said Thursday (Feb. 4) that prohibitions to cruise vessels and pleasure crafts “are essential” in protecting communities and health care systems from COVID-19.
Alghabra’s orders prohibits adventure-seeking pleasure craft from entering Arctic waters, passenger vessels carrying more than 12 people in Arctic coastal waters, including Nunatsiavut, Nunavik, and the Labrador Coast and bans cruise vessels carrying 100-plus people from Canadian waters.
All until February of next year.
If anything, it’s a move that sheds light onto the government’s attitude towards the cruise industry, while furthermore hindering any recovery strategy for 2021.
"Cruise vessels in Canadian waters pose a risk to our health care systems," the government said in a statement on Thursday.
Harsh & unfair
“I know Mr. Trudeau had said to brace ourselves for more travel restrictions to come, but I had no idea that this would be in the plan,” said Ming Tappin, PAX’s resident cruise expert and face behind Your Cruise Coach.
“Cruising isn’t supposed to start until May, so I didn’t think they would make a decision this early,” she said. “But I guess since there are so many logistics involved between the cruise lines and port authorities to set up operations, it was necessary.”
Tappin said she wasn’t completely surprised by the announcement as “COVID is still not under control in many parts of Canada and the U.S.”
However: “To cancel cruising season for the entire year is harsh, since vaccinations have begun and case loads in some places are slowly dropping.”
“I only hope that the government will be diligent in reviewing the situation over the next few months and hopefully we can salvage the season.”
Tappin also sees a double standard at play.
“To implement travel restrictions is a way to control people’s movements, but to ban cruising while allowing international flights and letting U.S. carriers take people to sun destinations is certainly unfair,” she said.
“We were surprised”
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) for North West & Canada (CLIA-NWC) said it was “surprised” by the length of the extension.
“While we understand and support the government’s focus on combatting COVID-19 in Canada, we are surprised by the length of the extension of the prohibition of cruise,” said Charlie Ball, Chair of CLIA-NWC, in a statement.” “We hope to have an opportunity to revisit this timeline and demonstrate our ability to address COVID-19 in a cruise setting with science-backed measures, as CLIA members are doing in Europe and parts of Asia where cruising has resumed on a limited basis.”
Two years without cruising in Canada will have “potentially irreversible consequences” for families throughout the country, CLIA-NWC said.
In 2019, the cruise industry generated a total of $4.25 billion in economic activity in Canada, a 33% increase from 2016, CLIA said.
Furthermore, 29,000 Canadian jobs paying $1.43 billion in wages were generated in 2019—a 26% increase in employment and 43% increase in wages since 2016.
“We stand ready to work with Canadian health and transportation officials to operationalize a path forward,” Ball said.
And if conditions improve?
Canada’s temporary measures for cruise ships were scheduled to end on Feb. 28 this month.
One condition of the No-Sail order is that Minister Alghabra can rescind his order if pandemic conditions improve.
Still, the move will have a direct impact on sailings out of Vancouver, as well as operations in Eastern Canada.
In an interview with CBC News, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said the extention was disappointing, but not a surprise.
"Protecting the health and safety of our citizens is the top priority, especially as we continue to roll out the vaccine,” said Premier McNeil.
Royal Caribbean ready to collaborate
In a statement to PAX, the Royal Caribbean Group said it understands the Canadian government’s decision and is ready to collaborate with officials.
“We understand and appreciate the Canadian government’s focus on combatting COVID-19,” the company said. “The health and safety of our guests, crew and communities we visit is our top priority.”
“Royal Caribbean Group is ready to work with health and transportation officials on a path forward to address the impact on multiple sectors of the Canadian economy.”
The company said it will be reaching out to its guests and travel partners with more information on future plans.
HAL potentially cancelling 2021 Alaska season
Holland America Line (HAL) said the extension, if not amended as pandemic conditions improve, or through action by U.S. authorities, will lead to the company cancelling its Alaska (West Coast) and Canada/New England (East Coast) season for 2021.
"Given the unexpected length of the order, it will take us some time to assess whether there are any options to preserve a portion of the 2021 Alaska season," HAL said in a statement to PAX.
HAL said it will be consulting authorities in both the U.S. and Canada "before we take any additional action."
"Our highest responsibility and top priorities include operational and environmental compliance, protecting the environment, and the health, safety and well-being of our guests, the communities we visit, and our crew and shoreside employees," said the company. "The cruise industry has demonstrated its commitment to health and safety through the development of extensive protocols in consultation with a panel of world-class medical experts, which will be implemented when we resume service."
"In addition, we recognize our importance to the economic health of many Alaskan communities and will continue to pursue any option which might permit safe operation of any portion of the season."
Despite the potential impact to Alaska sailings, HAL said it remains committed to operating one of its two Denali lodges, the Westmark Fairbanks Hotel and Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge this summer to support land vacations.
"We will continue to maintain a focus on what we can do to support our fellow Alaska businesses, the thousands of people who rely on the tourism industry, and the regions in which we operate," HAL said.
The company said it remains hopeful that progress accelerates to the point that Canada will rescind the interim order and allow cruise vacations to resume in 2021.
Helping agents through the storm
Despite the bad news, Allan Brooks at Celebrity said his team is ready to help navigate Canadian travel advisors through the COVID storm.
“We have worked closely with our valued travel partners throughout this event and will continue to do all we can to support and remain fully engaged with them. The travel agents are the frontline workers of our industry and they will continue to have our unwavering support,” Brooks told PAX.
Brooks said Celebrity is currently assessing the impact and working through its itineraries that visit Canada.
All updates and alternatives to guests and travel partners will be communicated by no later than Friday, Feb. 12, he said.
“We continue to maintain our focus on all efforts to resume service with the health, safety and well-being of our guests, the communities we visit, and our crew as our highest priority,” Brooks said.
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