The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) member lines have adopted a set of health protocols to be implemented as part of a phased-in resumption of cruise operations from the US, which the association said could happen by the end of this year.
"The core elements mirror the successful resumption of cruising in other parts of the world and include 100% testing of passengers and crew prior to boarding," CLIA said in a statement. "Initial cruises would sail on modified itineraries under stringent protocols that encompass the entirety of the cruise experience, from booking to debarkation. With support and approval of regulators and destinations, cruises could feasibly begin during the remainder of 2020."
CLIA said the plan will be submitted to the CDC in response to its Request for Information related to the safe resumption of cruise operations from the industry and address the entire cruise experience from booking to disembarkation.
The protocols highlighted are not surprising as many are already in place in Europe, where cruising has slowly ramped up since small ships first set sail in June and where large ships are now sailing from Italy.
"Based on what we are seeing in Europe, and following months of collaboration with leading public health experts, scientists and governments, we are confident that these measures will provide a pathway for the return of limited sailings from the US before the end of this year," CLIA CEO Kelly Craighead said in a statement.
They include Covid-19 testing of all passengers and crew prior to embarkation; mandatory mask-wearing onboard and during excursions when physical distancing cannot be maintained; physical distancing in terminals, onboard ships, on private islands and during shore excursions; implementing air management and ventilation strategies to increase fresh air onboard and, if possible, enhancing filters and other technologies to mitigate risk; and controlled shore excursions and denial of reboarding for any passengers who do not comply.
CLIA said that implementation of these elements onboard every member's ocean-going ships is mandatory and requires written verification of adoption by each company's CEO. The protocols do not preclude additional measures that may be adopted by individual lines.
CLIA, which represents 95% of global ocean-going cruise capacity, said that the protocols were informed by the scientists, medical experts and health authorities that have been working with cruise lines throughout the pandemic, including the recommendations made by the Healthy Sail Panel established by Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings released today, MSC's Blue Ribbon group and Carnival Corp's collection of independent experts. CLIA also considered the protocols utilised by the lines that have already resumed in Europe, such as MSC Cruises, Costa, Ponant and Seadream.
Carnival Corp said in a statement that its Europe cruising success is helping it prepare for a US restart.
"Our Costa Cruises brand successfully restarted cruise operations this month in Italy, with important learnings and best practices being shared broadly across the corporation's eight additional cruise line brands," Carnival said. "In addition, the global cruise community continues to make significant progress in developing enhanced health and safety protocols. We look forward to collaborating with CLIA and our fellow cruise operators to work collectively with the CDC for a safe and successful restart to cruise operations in the US."
CLIA global chairman Adam Goldstein said that the actions the industry has committed to represent the first time since the start of the cruise shutdown that it has collectively said what it would do to mitigate the risk of Covid-19.
"And nothing is more important than saying all guests and crew will need 100% negative test results to embark the ships," he said.
CLIA is not aware of any sector of travel that has committed to doing that.
Gloria Guevara, CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), commended CLIA for taking this kind of universal testing approach, something she said the WTTC is seeking to see more of in the industry.
"She gave our sector credit for being ahead of the game in making that commitment," Goldstein said.
This story was first published in Travel Weekly.