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Preparing for a Safe Return of Cruise

January 15, 2021

Stephanie Jones Stebbins is the Managing Director, Port of Seattle Maritime Division

Safely resuming cruise is an important part of the region and the Port’s economic recovery strategy. Seattle cruises to Alaska typically generate nearly $900 million in local business activity and support approximately 5,000 jobs.  

Normally, local hospitality and tourism business leaders would spend the whole year actively hiring and purchasing goods and services based on a cruise schedule that we share months before the first ship arrives. The certainty of a cruise season schedule makes that economic activity possible.  The uncertainty of another year makes that economic activity challenging. 

While we do not have full certainty on the 2021 cruise season, we can share some updates on the work happening to safely resume cruise.  

Current status

We expect the cruise season to start more slowly and later than usual this year. Normally our season begins with ships arriving to the Pacific Northwest in April, with our season hitting its full stride by May and June.

The cruise 2021 schedule remains in great flux as cruise lines adjust their procedures to meet new United States Center for Disease Control (CDC) requirements. In October of last year, the CDC provided guidance on steps cruise lines and ports need to take to safely resume cruise. The Port welcomed these new requirements, some of which reflected input we provided to them at the time. When adopted, these measures will make up some of the most robust health protections we have observed in any travel industry.  

Cruise lines are actively working to implement these health measures to meet the new CDC standards. As a result, many cruise lines are extending their no-sail periods to provide more time for planning and provisional sailings. We will rely on cruise lines to best determine when they are ready to resume their schedules as long as they are approved by the CDC with the engagement of local health organizations.  
Right now, berth reservations are in flux, making a firm schedule of sailings difficult to predict. The Port prepared financially for this season with a very conservative cruise passenger estimate, planning for approximately 25 percent of a typical cruise season as a budget baseline to guide our financial budgeting.That expectation allows the Port to manage further delays as cruise lines implement safety measures and work with the CDC on safety plan approval.  

Active preparations

In the meantime, the Port is working with our cruise line partners on operational adjustments to deploy a layer of health measures from the terminal to ship. When cruise does resume, passengers will see more touchless amenities, more safety barriers, and more social distancing, similar to work that has already been done at SEA Airport last year.     

The Port of Seattle strongly supports federal standards to ensure safety for communities, employees, and passengers, as our first priority is to protect the health of our guests, our workers, and the community. This is essential as we stay in close communication with health authorities and our homeported cruise lines regarding the potential re-opening of cruise in our region as have already begun in hosting briefings with operators and health officials to ensure that we will all be ready for a safe start to cruise. 

Small businesses in our region that depend on our cruise business have less flexibility to withstand another year of steep losses. With each homeported cruise vessel bringing in an estimated $4 million to the local economy when business was booming, many small businesses see big gains from this activity. The expectation of a limited cruise season makes it especially urgent that we continue to focus on helping these small businesses survive the severe drop in tourism related revenue.  

Cruise is an important part of Seattle's economic recovery and we will continue to coordinate with local and state public health agencies as we prepare for our next cruise season. 

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