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Travel Tourism-Reliant Cruise Ports Face a Tough Summer Ahead

21:20  22 june  2020
21:20  22 june  2020 Source:   cntraveler.com

What’s Happening to All Those Empty Cruise Ships?

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a group of people in a large body of water © urbanglimpses

In the remote Gold Rush town of Skagway, Alaska, streets that normally would be buzzing with thousands of summer season cruise passengers are quiet. The wildlife is having a field day; murders of ravens that usually pick through trash cans for food left by tourists are flapping their black wings searching for sustenance along the shoreline. Bears, unafraid without crowd noise, are meandering right into town.

But the 1,000 or so humans who live there are suffering through a season that was to bring a record 1.3 million cruise visitors and feed four new tour businesses—all now missing, because the vast majority of cruises to Alaska have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic (which led to no-sail orders by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and Canadian officials). Of the major cruise lines, only Norwegian is saying they still hope to run a couple of ships out of Seattle to Alaska in September, though how and where is unclear. While some small cruise lines (with ships carrying under 100 passengers) are also planning summer restarts, several Alaska towns have indicated they won’t be welcome, due to COVID-19 concerns, and if they do make it there, it will be in too small numbers to offset these losses.

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Popular cruise ports, and the residents who depend on the dollars that come from cruise visits, are left in a tight spot as a result: The summer season is everything to the local economy. “Normally you make enough money to last in the winter," says Andrew Cremata, the mayor of Skagway. "We’re going to go about 18 months without any revenue for most business owners.”

With tourist shops and restaurants and major attractions like the historic narrow-gauge White Pass & Yukon Route all closed, and hundreds of seasonal workers not arriving this year, the local government decided to help local residents. Rather than using funding from the CARES Act for municipal projects, they’ve earmarked $1,000 a month ($4,000 for a family of four) to all permanent residents, for about seven months, or until the money runs out.

Cruise ships have always struggled with outbreaks. Will things change after COVID-19?

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It was a move to ward off the potential for a mass exodus, Cremata says. No one wants Skagway to turn into a ghost town like nearby Dyea. Things are already looking good for a robust 2021 cruise season, he adds.

“Alaskans are tenacious and problem solvers and many are looking for ways to move forward,” says Midgi Moore, who was expecting up to 4,000 guests on her food tours in Juneau, a 200 percent increase over last year. Now she says all that is out the window. “The overall consensus is to get through this summer and look forward to next year,” she says. She started a mailed subscription box service, Taste Alaska, in the meantime. Her husband, Grant Moore, typically operates three fishing boats for visitors hoping to catch salmon or halibut or go whale watching. With only a handful of charters booked, he's instead focusing on his “wintertime” job as a contractor.

All Alaska coastal communities are dealing with a major tourism blow this summer, and so are coastal towns in Canada, where cruise business was wiped off the boards due to federal regulations and border closures. On the Atlantic side of the continent, serene Prince Edward Island, famous as the home of Anne of Green Gables—and for its Malpeque oysters—won't see the 98 ship calls it originally expected this summer.

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a yellow flower in a field: Summer landscape with canola fields and fishing boats at French River in central Prince Edward Island, Canada © Alamy Summer landscape with canola fields and fishing boats at French River in central Prince Edward Island, Canada

“We lost everything,” says Mike Cochrane, CEO of the Charlottetown Harbour Authority. “It’s a big hit for everybody.” The island still hopes to recoup some of its summer and fall foliage season business, at least with Canadians driving over, Cochrane says.

In the Caribbean, by far the largest cruise destination in the world, islands are debating when to open, weighing health concerns against significant revenue losses. The hope is that cruise lines will soon work out post-pandemic health and safety protocols with the CDC—which currently has a no-sail order barring large ships from sailing until September 15, and has not yet set any rules for a restart of sailings.

Eleven Caribbean islands each typically attract more than a million cruise visitors a year, in addition to their stayover hotel and resort crowd. The Cayman Islands ranks fourth (after Cozumel, the Bahamas, and Jamaica) and was expecting 1.9 million cruise passengers this year—each spending between $115 and $120 each per day, on average, according to Moses Kirkconnell, who is both minister of tourism and deputy prime minister of the Cayman Islands. Some days in winter, 25,000 cruisers come ashore, ready to spend.

How I Hope The Cruise Industry Comes Back

  How I Hope The Cruise Industry Comes Back The cruise industry will be much different when it returns—hopefully for the better.At least one cruise line has already announced that onboard buffets will be eliminated or drastically changed once operations resume, and that spurred many other ideas about how the industry might take advantage of the downtime to retool—not just from a health and safety perspective but to address many of the concerns that have long been shared by those both within and outside of the cruising sphere.

With its borders closed, the Cayman Islands, a country of 65,000, has taken a conservative approach to getting back in the cruise game; it has banned cruise ships until September 1, a date the country likely will extend. “We have talked about the fourth quarter of this year to see where we are going to land,” Kirkconnell says. “It’s going to be a balance between what is the safest way to protect our people and also protect the visitors that come to the island.” The Cayman Islands is better off than its neighbors as a hub of international banking; only 30 percent of the GDP comes from tourism, Kirkconnell adds. From the Caymans’ tourism budget, displaced workers who qualify are receiving $1,200 a month and are offered retraining in another job: A taxi driver may transition into construction, for instance.

The closed country of Bahamas is dealing with a much different issue. Several major cruise lines—including Disney and Royal Caribbean—own or lease isolated private islands here, like Disney’s Castaway Cay and Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day at CocoCay. Officials are trying to ward off any temptation by the lines to do short itineraries from South Florida that visit only places under cruise line control, bypassing the country’s largest city, Nassau. The local Bahamas Tribune newspaper quoted Dionisio D’Aguilar, the Bahamas minister of tourism, as saying that bypassing the capital city—where shops, restaurants, tours, and attractions draw visitor dollars—would not be allowed.

With most sailing off the table through the summer—and with a chance the cruise ban extends even later into the fall—these popular destinations face difficult decisions, weighing public health concerns against present financial disaster.

“I would love to encourage tourism,” says Mayor Cremata. “But we have to make sure the health of our residents is protected.”

We're reporting on how COVID-19 impacts travel on a daily basis. Find all of our coronavirus coverage and travel resources here.

Cayman Islands Will Remain Closed to Cruise Tourism Through 2020 .
Port Authority of the Cayman Islands Acting Port Director Joseph Woods attributed the decision to the COVID-19 pandemic.In a brief notice sent to cruise industry partners, including major cruise lines last week, Port Authority of the Cayman Islands Acting Port Director Joseph Woods cited the coronavirus pandemic for the extended ban.

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