Hurdles remain for 2021 cruise season despite lifting no-sail order
November 25, 2020
Revised Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requirements for cruise ships offer some hope for a 2021 summer tourism season, but the season likely won’t be as robust as it had been pre-pandemic, according to Haines Borough tourism director Steven Auch.
Until the end of October, the CDC had in place a no-sail order for cruise ships. Starting this month, individual cruise ships will be allowed to return to sailing if they meet requirements including on-board and on-shore testing capabilities, and the completion of a mock sailing to test out COVID-19 mitigation plans, complete with volunteer passengers.
At a Tourism Advisory Board (TAB) meeting last week, Auch said while the lifting of the no-sail order means cruise lines can start prepping for a summer season in Alaska, ships are still a long way from making regular port calls to Haines.
“All these cruise ships have been laid up for a while. To pull a cruise ship out of layup takes approximately thirty-plus days. They also have to rehire staff, get staff back to the destination of where the ship is, go through the new procedures, so that’s a timely process,” Auch said, adding that once the mock sailing is complete, the CDC has 60 days to come back with a verdict.
This means the summer season in Haines will likely start off slowly, Auch said.
“Right now, it sounds like most of the larger companies are hoping they’ll be able to get (their first) ships rolling by mid-April to early May,” he said. “It would be wise of us to expect that this summer, if it does return to cruising, it will certainly start off slower.”
Auch said at present, this timeline doesn’t account for a potential vaccine, which could substantially change cruise lines’ plans. In recent weeks, several drugmakers have announced highly promising results from late-stage COVID-19 vaccine trials.
“The cruise industry is trying to act as if there is no such thing as a vaccine because it is in their best interest to have everything in place if, for example, it doesn’t come through, people won’t take it, or whatever the case is,” Auch said.
The U.S. Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886 is another hurdle between Haines and a robust summer tourist season. Due to a provision in the act, ships flying international flags can’t sail directly between U.S. ports. They must stop in a foreign port. This means even with CDC approval, many larger cruise ships won’t be able to come to Haines and other communities in Southeast until Canada opens its ports.
At last week’s meeting, TAB members said community outreach will be an important part of future planning for a summer tourism season.
“If everything rolls out as to be expected, priority one is going to be to convince the community that we’re going to keep them safe,” member Barbara Mulford said.
The lack of summer tourism this year has hit the local economy hard. Sales tax in the Haines Borough is down 31% through August compared to the same time last year, according to a recent report. July, peak tourism season in a normal year, saw the biggest decrease so far of any month with a decline of 48%. Industries that saw the greatest decrease in sales in that month were tourism, lodging and food service.
Other developments discussed at the TAB meeting included the launch of the new “Visit Haines” website, a project the tourism department has undertaken in preparation for welcoming visitors back to Haines.
“The biggest advantage that we really have with (the new website), aside from it looking beautiful, is it was designed around what people were already searching for… we were looking at what people were Googling and trying to find terms to create page content so that when people search for that, they would end up on this site,” Auch said.
The website, https://www.visithaines.com/, went live Nov. 12. Auch said there are still a few glitches that need to be sorted out. The goal is to have the site finalized sometime in January.