U.S. President Joe Biden, on Monday (May 24), signed H.R. 1318, the "Alaska Tourism Restoration Act,” a new law that will allow cruise ships to sail from Washington State to Alaska without having to stop in British Columbia, Canada.
"This law will allow large cruise ships to visit Alaska this year, a critical step toward returning to normal in a state where one in 10 jobs is in the tourism industry,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki at a press briefing on Monday.
U.S. House representatives passed the new legislation last Thursday, prompting several cruise brands to unveil partial summer sailings to Alaska.
But The Alaska Tourism Restoration Act has reversed that outlook as it gives cruise ships a way around the Passenger Vessel Services Act (also referred to as the Jones Act), which prohibits foreign-flagged ships — like the ones operated by cruise lines — from embarking and disembarking passengers at two different U.S. ports without stopping at a foreign port in between.
Prior to the pandemic, Alaska-bound ships departing from Seattle, Washington, for instance, would stop in Vancouver or Victoria, British Columbia, to satisfy the law.
That will no longer be required now that Biden has signed off on the new legislation, which is intended as a temporary workaround for 2021.
Several cruise brands, including Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity, Holland America Line, Princess and Carnival, have all since announced plans to resume sailings into Alaska ports starting this summer.
Cruise lines still must meet guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to guard against COVID-19.
Bad news for Canada
U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, who got the legislation off the ground, have indicated that the workaround would be a temporary measure until Canadian border restrictions are lifted.
However, industry advocates say the new legislation could create serious economic problems in the long run.
“A temporary change [in the law] could become permanent and the economic impact and job loss would be significant for Canadian coastal communities,” President of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA) Wendy Paradis told PAX in an interview last week.
Bypassing Canada for good could cost the Canadian cruise sector upwards of $4.278 billion in revenue when cruising is allowed to resume.
In B.C., cruising generated roughly $2.72 billion and created 17,384 jobs in 2019.
One solution ACTA is pitching to the federal government is to allow ships to make a “technical” stop in Canada without allowing guests to board or disembark the ship.
“If the government were to allow an operational or ‘technical’ stop in Victoria in the summer of 2021 to satisfy the Jones Act, it keeps port operations continuing allowing for a more expeditious start when the cruise ban order is lifted,” Paradis said.
But Transport Canada, which oversees the cruise ban, doesn’t seem open to being flexible right now.
In a statement to PAX last week, the office for the Minister of Transport implied that Canada isn’t ready to welcome cruise ships back into its waters.
“Although the progress in the U.S. regarding cruise ship resumption is encouraging, there are a number of our provinces battling a third wave of COVID-19 and the public health situation has not improved to the point Canada is able to safely resume cruise operations in our waters,” the office wrote.
Should the COVID-19 pandemic improve, the Minister of Transport has the ability to rescind the ban.
ACTA, alongside the Cruise Line Industry Association (CLIA) and the Tourism Industry Association of British Columbia, is currently working with MP Tako Van Popta of Langley—Aldergrove to lobby federal officials and highlight the risks of a U.S. workaround.
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