As the cruising gets ready to reboot this summer after a pause of more than a year, it appears that re-entry to U.S. waters may face some headwinds.
Only half of Americans (50%) are confident that the cruise industry can reopen safely coming out of the pandemic, according to a recent Harris Poll Covid-19 tracker survey fielded May 26-28 to 1,999 U.S. adults.
About a third (32%) of Harris Poll respondents said that, due to the pandemic, they didn’t feel comfortable cruising anytime soon, while another 14% said they’ll never go on a cruise again. Roughly another third (31%) said the pandemic had made them concerned but they would go on cruises anyway. Only a quarter of respondents (23%) said the pandemic had not affected their comfort level for taking a cruise over the next year.
When asked whether they were confident that various industries could keep customers safe, respondents rated the cruise industry dead last, behind everyday businesses such as retail stores (82%), restaurants (80%), movie theaters (63%) and sports and concert venues (59%).
Notably, consumer confidence in the cruise industry’s ability to keep passengers safe also lags well behind other travel subcategories such as hotels (79%), airlines (69%) and amusement parks (63%).
That soft enthusiasm presents a problem for an industry that desperately needs to make up for lost time. Luckily, the same survey indicates that there is a way for cruise lines to instill more confidence. Nearly two thirds of those surveyed (63%) said they would be more likely to go on a cruise if the cruise line mandated that all crew and passengers be vaccinated against Covid.
What’s more, nearly as many respondents (59%) went even further, saying that, if they were going to take a cruise, they would specifically look for a cruise line that mandated all crew and passengers be vaccinated against Covid. This was true for majorities of both men (62%) and women (55%) in the survey’s total sample. It was true for the majorities of multiple age groups, including baby boomers (72%), Gen-Xers (55%) and Millennials (52%). And it was true across all household income levels, whether respondents earned $100K and up (69%), $51K-$99K (54%) or less than $50K (52%) per year.
In comparison, just 26% of respondents said they preferred that there was no mandate and 18% said it wouldn’t matter either way.
The Harris Poll findings suggest that most Americans are supportive of the current guidance on cruising from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In late April, the agency greenlighted cruise ships to begin sailing from U.S. ports this summer, as long as 98% of crew members and 95% of passengers are fully vaccinated.
Of course, cruise lines are also listening to their own customers, and they know that cruise enthusiasts are on board with vaccine mandates. In a survey of 5,025 readers fielded over Memorial Day weekend by Cruise Critic, the popular cruise review site owned by Tripadvisor, 80% of likely cruisers said they want to resume sailing on ships that require vaccinations.
This sentiment may explain why, before the end of March — more than a month before the CDC’s revised guidance came out — some cruise lines had already announced that they would require both crew and passengers to be vaccinated before setting sail.
Cruise lines are full steam ahead for all-vaccinated sailings to Alaska, after an all-Republican consortium from the 49th state — including senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, Representative Don Young, and Governor Mike Dunleavy — found a temporary way around the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA), which prevents foreign-flagged ships from sailing between Seattle and Alaska without stopping in Canada.
The waters are murkier in Florida, however, where the issue of vaccine verification has become hotly politicized. Governor Ron DeSantis’ administration has sued the CDC, asking the court to declare the agency’s “conditional sail order” — the framework for restarting cruising — to be unlawful on the grounds it is unfair to the cruise industry. No cruise companies joined DeSantis on the lawsuit. A federal judge in Tampa sent lawyers for both sides into mediation with a June 1 deadline that came and went.
It is perhaps not surprising that 74% of Democrats in the Harris Poll survey said they would choose cruise lines that mandate vaccinations. More revealing, perhaps, is that roughly half of Republicans (48%) also agreed.