“Cruise is not on the radar at all at this stage. Honestly, I don’t see cruise tourism resuming on any sort of significant level before next year.”
With that unequivocal declaration Hon. Premier Alden McLaughlin has taken Cayman off the cruise itinerary for this year at least.
“The cruise ship business is not really within our contemplation at this stage," he stated.
The global multi-billion dollars cruise industry has been struggling to regain its footing after being quite literally crippled by the COVID-19.
During 2020 the pandemic caused a series of high-profile incidents of onboard outbreaks of the disease and deaths - especially with the saga of the Diamond Princess in Japan - as well as ships being barred from entering ports out of safety concerns.
The pressure on board ship was also felt on share with countries having to treat seriously ill passengers in local medical facilities or arranging for them to be evacuated back to their home countries.
Cayman was not immune from those situations having had one cruise passenger die from COVID-19 complications after being transferred from a vessel and also closing its port to cruise ships.
That was one of only two deaths in the jurisdiction linked to the pandemic.
“I think we would have to be satisfied that the world was a very different place in terms of relating to coronavirus before we would even consider having the cruise ships come here,” Premier McLaughlin said, “because as they have demonstrated they are really crucibles for the virus.”
He was referring to the confined proximities of life on a cruise ship regardless of the size of the vessel where passengers invariably are in close contact with one another.
The Premier's scepticism that cruise ships are “really crucibles for the virus” is borne out by the shockingly large number of cases and deaths connected to the coronavirus on cruise ships around the world.
Still virtually adrift, the sector has been looking at some semblance of recovery for this year banking a lot on the roll-out of vaccines and interest among cruise enthusiasts.
With Cayman effectively off the cruise itinerary for the rest of this year, the focus is on a national vaccination programme as a path out of the economically stifling effects of the pandemic here.
The emphasis will be on the stay-over tourism sector and a newly-launched Global Citizen remote worker scheme as Cayman looks to some semblance of further opening its borders by March beyond the limited access in place for the past three months since October 2020.
It is hoped that by the Spring around 70% of the population - approximately 42,000 people - will have been inoculated creating a ring of 'herd immunity'.
“Our borders cannot remain closed forever," the Premier said, " and we will not be able to maintain the bubble that we have created indefinitely. This vaccine is our best hope in the long term to continue protecting health and life for and life for Cayman and the world."
Meantime, the cruise industry is reporting that it is working to refloat its prospects with some limited cruising already restarting after many vessels were riding out the pandemic anchored at several ports around the globe including the Caribbean.
The industry body, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) said in its “2021 State of the Cruise Industry Outlook” report that it was hoping to relaunch cruising this year with a strong emphasis on onboard health protocols.
The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has projected recovery in the cruise industry to start around the second quarter of this year after declining by 70-80% since last year.
It pinned its expectation on the roll-out of vaccines but cautioned that a return to 2019 levels could take 2½ to 4 years.