In the month since Transport Canada unexpectedly extended the country’s cruise ship ban to February 2022, government officials and cruise executives have pushed for a workaround to welcome guests on board Alaska sailings. The decision, if left unchanged, would not only eliminate Canadian sailings in 2021 but also end the hope for an Alaska cruise season.
While some cruise lines are still optimistic about welcoming guests onboard Alaska sailings sometime before February 2022, here’s where things stand:
U.S. representatives push for a solution
Last week, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure sent a letter to the Canadian ambassador to the U.S., pushing the Canadian government to work with the U.S. to find a solution.
In the letter, the Committee said that while the focus should be “on protecting the public health and safety of citizens” it should, at the same time, be on “providing opportunities for economic recovery.”
“By closing Canadian ports to passenger vessels for another year, the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Americans and Canadians are at risk from more job losses and further economic devastation,” the letter said.
The Committee is pushing for a solution that, while not salvaging all Canadian sailings, would still allow cruise ships to stop in Canada but not disembark passengers. That solution would help save some of 2021’s Alaska cruise season, preventing a second lost year.
Alaska Tourism Recovery Act proposes a temporary solution
The Alaska Tourism Recovery Act, introduced last week by Alaska Rep. Don Young, proposed a temporary solution. The bill outlines a temporary Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA) workaround, allowing sailings between Alaska and Washington states to be categorized as foreign voyages.
The PVSA is a law that requires non-coastwise endorsed cruise ships to stop at a foreign port between domestic stops. The legislation would allow ships sailing to and from Washington and Alaska to operate without stopping in Canadian ports until Canada lifts its cruise ship ban.
“My bill is simple: the Alaska Tourism Recovery Act provides a temporary fix by designating roundtrip cruises as foreign voyages, creating a workaround for the PVSA. Now it is incumbent upon the Biden Administration and the CDC to work quickly and collaboratively to implement a plan to safely resume cruising,” Young said.
ASTA: ‘Government and industry must work together’
In a statement published this past weekend, President and CEO of the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) Zane Kerby called Transport Canada’s decision “the most recent example” of government action devastating the travel industry.
“Government action – here and abroad – has played a key role in the decimation of our industry, the most recent example being the Canadian government’s announcement that it is closing its ports to cruise ships through early 2022,” Kerby said.
ASTA has continued to advocate for solutions, including welcoming the letter from the House Committee on Transportation and endorsing the Alaska Tourism Recovery Act.
“Whether legislative, regulatory, or diplomatic, we will continue to push for a solution to this impasse. With the vaccination rollout underway and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention working with cruise lines to resume cruising from U.S. ports, there is promise for the summer and fall seasons. Government and industry must work together, find a solution and keep that promise,” Kerby wrote.
Suppliers continue to react
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’ Frank Del Rio, on the company’s Q4 earnings calls last week, commented on the future of Alaska sailings.
Del Rio noted that it is still “difficult to predict” what the outcome will be for Alaska. However, he is encouraged that Transport Canada’s decision to close waters until spring of 2022 “has been noted by various government officials.”
“As you know, tourism is the third-largest industry in Alaska and for certain Alaskan coastal communities, cruising is over 90% of their tourism business,” he said.
“We’re hopeful, cautiously optimistic. It’s a lot of hoops to jump through both from the Canadian side and also, let’s face it, we cannot operate as of today in U.S. waters and Alaska waters,” he continued.
While NCLH has suspended taking new bookings on Alaska, Del Rio said the company still holds out “some hope that these initiatives led by the Alaskan delegation can open up Alaska for 2021.”
Also last week, other cruise lines continued to make changes in light of Transport Canada’s decision.
Both lines said that they would continue to engage with government officials to find a solution to save the 2021 Alaska season, but had to make the changes because of Transport Canada’s decision.