In the United States, flights are filling up, hotels are getting booked, vacation rentals are selling out, and car rental companies face a shortage because of spiking demand.
But one sector remains stalled: the cruise industry.
Cruise ships sailing out of United States ports have been docked for more than a year following a series of coronavirus outbreaks on board vessels at the start of the pandemic. Now, cruise companies can restart operations only by following rules laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in October.
Earlier this month, the C.D.C. published a set of technical guidelines to help cruise companies prepare their ships to start sailing again in line with those rules, which were set out in the agency’s Framework for Conditional Sailing Order. But the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the industry’s trade group, called the instructions “so burdensome and ambiguous that no clear path forward or timetable can be discerned.”
Cruise companies have asked the agency to revise its guidelines to factor in the speedy rollout of vaccinations and allow U.S. sailings to restart in July. But the C.D.C. has not yet provided a firm date. Under the current rules, cruise ships must follow a months-long process that includes simulation voyages to test out their health and safety protocols, followed by a review period.
“The cruise industry as a whole is very frustrated,” said Stewart Chiron, a cruise industry analyst, and chief executive of the news site cruiseguy.com. “Travel is resuming at a very high level. Airplanes and hotels are packed, and no industry is better suited to restart than cruising. The lines are prepared, safety protocols are in place, and now, with the high level of vaccine distribution, they feel it’s a good time to resume operations.”
In response to the C.D.C.’s delay of U.S. sailings, some cruise lines are moving their ships abroad to launch summer cruises from foreign ports, including the Caribbean and Europe, where they are permitted to sail. Many of the voyages require adult passengers and crew members to be vaccinated.
The world’s largest cruise company, Carnival, has warned that it might also look outside the United States if the C.D.C. continues to prevent cruises from sailing domestically.
CLIA paints the C.D.C. as targeting the industry unfairly and points to the global economic impact of the initial suspension of cruise operations from mid-March to September of last year, the latest period for which it has statistics. The group says there was a loss of $50 billion in economic activity, 334,000 jobs, and $15 billion in wages. But health experts note the number and severity of outbreaks on ships last year when, for example.
more than 700 people became infected with the virus on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan, and 14 people died. “The C.D.C. wants to prevent people from getting sick, and the cruise lines want to go back to business and start making money,” said Tara Kirk Sell, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “So there’s going to be a central disconnect and tension there as we sort our way through this pandemic, which isn’t over yet, and we are still trying to figure out.”