Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidance on COVID-19 and cruise travel, recommending that cruise travel be avoided regardless of vaccination status. The decision came after an increase in cases were reported on cruise ships recently.
We reached out to our travel advisor community to see how clients are reacting to this new update, and how the community is handling this new guidance.
Mary Head, travel advisor with Magic Memories LLC and independent affiliate of Avoya Travel Network/AMX, says, “Several of my clients called or e-mailed to share their disgust that the CDC would do this to the industry that has taken every precaution possible for the health and safety of their passengers. That said,” she added, “so far January (usually Wave Season) is very quiet.”
“Everyone from clients to agents to other travel industry partners are quite upset and annoyed at the overreach of the CDC and targeting cruises and the hypocrisy of it all,” says Sally Bedoian Killoran, travel advisor with TravelMasters.
Lauren Doyle, president, The Travel Mechanic, said she’s only had one cancelation so far, but hasn’t had much booking for cruises since the announcement. “I think everyone is holding tight. I have received a lot of questions from clients who are booked on upcoming travel,” she adds. “We have been down this road before so if they feel comfortable or not, that is up to them. I am just advising clients on the cruise lines’ changes and requirements.”
In a conversation on Recommend’s Facebook page, Bedoian Killoran added, “This is the part that I hate. You’re literally doing two to three times work because you have to keep rebooking, so it’s like making a new booking almost every time and then they end up canceling. So, you’ve done three times the work for nothing.”
Advisors aren’t the only ones outraged by this new guideline. The American Society of Travel Advisors’ (ASTA) president and CEO Zane Kerby also commented on the new guidelines.
In a statement, Kerby said, “An increase in reported COVID cases on cruise ships should surprise no one given the worldwide spike driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant. The difference between enjoying a cruise vacation and visiting your local grocery store or restaurant, however, is the extraordinarily stringent anti-COVID measures put in place voluntarily by the cruise lines, in close consultation with the CDC. These measures include testing, vaccination, sanitation, mask-wearing and other science-backed measures, as well as protocols to respond to potential cases of COVID-19.
“If the average cruise ship were a U.S. state,” he continued, “it would be the safest in the country—by far. According to Royal Caribbean Group, since cruising restarted in the U.S. in June 2021, its ships have carried 1.1 million guests with 1,745 people testing positive—a positivity rate of 0.02 percent. Among U.S. states as of Jan. 4, Alaska’s positivity rate is the lowest at 9.4 percent, with Georgia’s the highest at 38.7 percent.
“Cruising is no more responsible for the spread of the Omicron variant than travelers from Southern Africa were at the outset of the current crisis. But we continue to see knee-jerk reactions singling out travel for discriminatory treatment. Because the travel industry is regulated more heavily than other activities, when COVID caseloads rise or new variants emerge, travel takes the hit. It brings to mind the old saying, ‘if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.’ This pattern needs to stop,” Kerby added.
“The Administration has shown flexibility on its anti-COVID measures of late, including the recent decision to lift the Nov. 26 travel ban on eight countries in Southern Africa. We call on it to do the same here. At this stage in the pandemic, the tools exist to allow us to combat this virus without crippling an entire sector of the U.S. economy in the process. Let’s use them,” he said.
Krista Betts, sr. travel advisor with Balboa Vacations, praised Kerby’s statement. “I will say, I am so incredibly proud of ASTA’s Zane Kerby who proactively advocates for the entire travel landscape when these type of ‘new’ hurdles arrive,” she says.
The U.S. Travel Association president and CEO Roger Dow also issued a statement: “As noted by President Biden, the updated guidance from the CDC marks another phase for America in navigating the pandemic.
“From the onset, we have said our industry will follow the guidance of public health authorities. The last thing we want is a backslide in the nascent recovery of travel, particularly as business travel slowly begins to rebuild. Adhering to the CDC guidance allows Americans to safely continue the return to our professional lives, including in-person meetings and business travel. The updated CDC guidance should not hamper the progress made by our country in recent months as we have begun to travel and gather in person again.
“But the most critical element to staying healthy is vaccination. We strongly encourage all Americans to protect themselves and their loved ones by getting vaccinated. It’s the fastest path to normalcy for all,” he added.
Business As Usual
Despite the new recommendation, travel advisors such as Betts, says that her clients are “cruisers” and “adamant on cruising. “I am actively booking cruises and so are my colleagues. I have had several January cruises cancel and clients are extremely disappointed.
“With the CDC announcement, I think we (myself and my colleagues included) should address this with our clients that are currently booked on upcoming sailings,” she says.
Bedoian Killoran adds, “At this point, I’m telling my clients to do whatever they are comfortable with, but with cruises at such low capacity it’s pretty good overall. Most clients are canceling due to the ‘enhanced’ restrictions not because they are worried—they just want to relax on vacation and not be regulated and supervised—no one wants to be constantly dictated to on vacation,” she adds.
Travel consultant Cristine Cribari Tibble with Lindstrom Travel, says that her clients “decided to go and make the best of it,” despite the new CDC guidelines for cruise travel.
Matt Welch, travel advisor with PSI TRAVEL and Cruises, added to the conversation on Recommend’s Facebook page, noting that, “Categorically saying ‘avoid cruises’ is unfair. There are river cruises and many small ship cruises that are doing an excellent job of protocols and protections. They should not be grouped with the mega-liners.”
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