Enough is enough.
I’m writing this column in February, the morning after the Canadian government announced it would ban cruise vessels from calling on its ports until early 2022.
This decision will affect Canada some, but it will hurt the U.S. even more: Because of arcane maritime regulations, the vast majority of cruises departing from American ports must stop in a foreign country before the end of their scheduled voyages.
This means Canada just canceled the Alaska cruise season for all of 2021.
Alaska and its coastal destinations rely heavily on tourism. In a normal year, 1.2 million people visit Alaska on cruise ships. The economic impact of these visitors is hard to overstate.
In 2020, that number dropped to zero. This year, though, the stage was set for a comeback. COVID-19 infections in the U.S. are plummeting. A widespread vaccination rollout should give hundreds of millions of Americans immunity by summertime, the height of the Alaska cruise season. And consumer surveys consistently show an incredible pent-up demand for travel.
Now, though, thanks to fear-based thinking and political posturing in the Canadian government, that’s all in jeopardy.
Under Canada’s new rules, Alaska will miss its second tourist season in a row. More businesses will close, and more workers will lose their jobs. The same is true in New England, which enjoys heavy cruise visitation during the fall foliage season. Those cruises must also stop in Canada.
The policy is intended to keep visitors from spreading the coronavirus in Canada, but there are less disruptive ways to do that. Masking is already universally required in those places. Canada could also require incoming cruise visitors to test negative for COVID-19 before disembarking. They could even require visitors to show proof of vaccination, a measure the cruise lines are considering anyway.
Instead, Canada chose to demonize travel and penalize the hardworking people who make it possible.
Barring a reversal by the Canadian government, there’s just one way to salvage Alaska’s cruise season: U.S. authorities can issue waivers to cruise lines allowing them to sail to Alaska this year without stopping in a foreign port. Maybe by the time you read this, that will already have happened. If not, I encourage you to contact your representatives and urge them to support making that change.
We’re now one year into this pandemic, and some 4.5 million travel and tourism jobs have been lost in America alone. Despite these challenges, the travel industry has implemented policies and procedures that have made tourism safe.
Thousands of airline passengers fly every day without infecting each other. And intrepid leaders in popular American destinations have kept their cities and states safely open and busy throughout the summer and fall of 2020.
Restricting travel won’t restrict COVID because the virus is already in virtually every community in the world. People get infected by spending time with others, unmasked, in homes and other private places. Travel has nothing to do with it.
I love Canada, but I hate this policy. And it’s just the latest in a disastrous series of decisions from government leaders at every level and of every political persuasion that have unnecessarily crippled our industry.
It’s time we bust the myth that travel spreads COVID-19. With common-sense precautions in place, it doesn’t. Enough is enough.