In 2019, the cruise industry’s contribution to the U.S. economy was on the rise, according to a new economic report put out by Cruise Lines International Association, the leading industry organization. But in 2020, facing an estimated $32 billion loss, the industry will contribute less than half of what it did last year.
“The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent suspension of cruise operations in the U.S. is having a devastating impact on the economy and on those who depend on cruise activity for their livelihoods,” Bari Golin-Blaugrund, vice president of strategic communications for CLIA, told USA TODAY.
Cruising contributed $55 billion to the American economy in 2019 up 5.3% from 2018, according to the CLIA report. But in 2020, cruising is suspended in U.S. waters through the end of the year thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“From mid-March through the end of this year, it is estimated that the suspension of cruising in the U.S. will result in a loss of more than $32 billion in economic activity and more than 254,000 American jobs,” Golin-Blaugrund said, adding that that number includes cruising’s economic contributions across multiple sectors, “from transportation and aviation, to food and beverage services, lodging, manufacturing, agriculture, travel agencies and a vast suppliers and service providers across the United States.”
Kelly Craighead, president and CEO of CLIA, said in a release that the organization recognizes the detrimental impact of COVID-19 on the cruising community.
The only way out of the devastation? To start cruising again.
“A resumption of cruising in the United States in 2021, with stringent measures in place and with the support of health authorities, will be critical to putting people back to work and fueling the greater economic recovery from the pandemic,” Craighead said.
And the industry has been preparing to sail again for some time. Upon extending its voluntary sailing suspension through the end of the year, the industry said it would prepare and align industry protocols with standards in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s new conditional sailing order, which includes test sailings, among other requirements to be completed, before passenger cruises can resume.
In September, the industry announced mandatory health and safety changes in preparation for a return to cruising. CLIA and its member cruise lines adopted more extensive mandatory health protocols for vessels that can carry 250 or more passengers, which include crew and passenger testing, mask-wearing, enhanced cruise ship ventilation, response procedures and shore excursion protocols.
CLIA worked with Royal Caribbean and Norwegian’s “Healthy Sail Panel,” other cruise lines and health experts and examined sailings with new protocols in place in Europe.
The industry also announced universal testing on ships with the capability of carrying 250 or more people worldwide.
Richard Fain, CEO of Royal Caribbean Group, believes that the industry has found a way to move forward.
“We do believe it is possible to make it that you are safer on a cruise ship than you are on ‘Main Street’,” he said on the company’s earnings call on Oct. 29.
But it’s unclear when U.S. cruising will actually resume.
Just because the industry’s own suspension expires on Dec. 31 doesn’t mean ships will sail immediately after. In fact, Carnival Cruise Line has already canceled cruises in U.S. waters through the end of January and some sailings into March. And while the CDC issued a “conditional sailing order,” it doesn’t allow for cruising to resume immediately or at any named date.
“This ‘Framework of Conditional Sailing’ lays out a pathway – a phased, deliberate and intentional pathway – toward resuming passenger services but only when it is safe, when [the cruise industry] can assure health and when they are responsible with respects of needs of crew passengers and port communities,” Dr. Martin Cetron, director of the CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, told USA TODAY in October.
At the time the order was announced, Cetron wasn’t prepared to guess when passenger cruising will actually begin.
“I’m smart enough after 10 months of this pandemic not to speculate like that,” he said. “It’s basically the virus’ numbers against human ingenuity.”