The Jamaican authorities don’t think the CDC’s recent advice against taking a cruise will be something to be concerned about long-term. However, there will be disruptions, cancellations, and diversions of itineraries.
Nonetheless, despite the thinking that Omicron is a severe issue, the CDC’s advice comes at the worst possible time for the Caribbean, a region on the verge of recovering from an absence of mass tourism for nearly two years.
Jamaica, which has only recently begun receiving cruise ships in more significant numbers, is ready but hopeful the Omicron strain will not cause too much distress to the cruise industry:
In an interview with the Jamaica Observer, Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett said he believes the requirements and protocols as advised by the CDC will not last long: “I believe the requirements, as we see it, may be short-lived. And we keep our fingers crossed in that direction. But we do understand why there is a need for us to take all the necessary precautions.”
Late last year, Jamaica started welcoming cruise ships back to its shores in more significant numbers again, to all five of its cruise ports. While the cruise industry has traditionally played a prominent role in the tourism industry on the island, it was expected that visiting cruise ships would kickstart a recovery process. The island counts on receiving three million cruise passengers by 2025, which would have a significant financial effect on the local population.
The CDC’s message arrived at “a very inopportune time for tourism, especially for the economies of countries that are highly tourism-dependent in the Caribbean,” according to the tourism minister.
Only in August of this year did cruise ships start to return to Jamaica. Carnival Sunrise was the first vessel in 17 months to call in Ocho Rios. Other ports such as Montego Bay did not open until December 1, when Carnival Glory called here for the first time since March 2020.
The statement issued by the CDC has been received with skepticism and criticism by the cruise industry; however, whether the cruising public will take much notice remains to be seen, said the CEO of the Jamaican Ports Authority, William Tatham. He does believe that the effects the cruise industry is feeling right now will only bolster the need to keep the industry open no matter what:
“I do know that some cruise lines have had to reroute and to do some changes in their itineraries already. I think the cruise industry is going to keep themselves open. Unless they are mandated to close, I don’t think they want to go through that,”
Indeed, closing down the industry again could bring numerous problems and a financial hit that all cruise lines will want and need to avoid. William Tatham:
“I don’t know for sure, but based on how cruising initially restarted, I think cruise lines will raise their level of protocols and their requirements. I think they will probably look to keep the passenger counts reduced and may even lead to further reductions. I think they’re going to do everything in their power not to have the business disrupted, even if it means redeploying and coming up with some new itineraries, spending more time at private islands and doing things like that.”
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Of course, it all depends on the safety of the vessels. However, as long as the cruise industry continues to prove that they are a safer option than any other vacations out there, they will continue sailing:
“They’re not going to find many ports that are able to accommodate them unless they can provide a safe environment. So they’re going to do everything they can to ensure that they are safe,”
For now, Jamaica remains a place where ships are still welcome and where the policies have proven to be working, with more than 30 calls scheduled between Falmouth, Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, and Port Antonio.
The question is which point the industry is heading towards, especially as some countries are implementing stringent measures for cruise ships with COVID-19 cases onboard.