NSW, Queensland and the Victorian Governments – the three states first to allow foreign-flagged cruise vessels in March – are reviewing the strict regulations that currently govern the vaccination status of passengers on board.
The news comes as countries that have lifted vaccination requirements on cruise lines report a boom in bookings for ocean holidays.
Many of the major cruise lines like Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean in America have announced they will drop their vaccination requirements for sailings, which saw passengers tested before boarding and the need to demonstrate vaccination status.
In a statement to Cruise Passenger, a NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet spokesperson said, “In early 2022, the NSW, Queensland and Victorian Governments, worked in partnership with the cruise industry to develop a set of common protocols for the resumption of cruising on the Eastern Seaboard. The Eastern Seaboard Cruise Protocols outline a range of public health measures designed to mitigate health risks to passengers and crew on board, and ensure that cruising does not place an unreasonable burden on the health system on shore.
“The Eastern Seaboard Cruise Protocols require all passengers over the age of 12 to be fully vaccinated to board domestic and international cruises. Unvaccinated children, and individuals with a medical exemption to the vaccine, are permitted to travel, however must make up no more than 5% of the passengers.
“The NSW, Queensland and Victorian Governments are currently working with industry to review the Eastern Seaboard Cruise Protocols so they remain effective and fit for purpose for cruise lines of all sizes, ahead of the peak summer cruising season.”
In America as a result of the drop in requirements, agents are reporting huge spikes in bookings as passengers flock to get onboard.
And Australian travel agents believe that once the Australian government drops restrictions
Everything Travel consultant, Krystal Brazel is looking forward to restrictions being eased and thinks that it will make a difference in the uptake of bookings.
She said: “I have people who have enquiries about the vaccination requirements, and I have passengers who can’t get vaccinated because of medical or religious reasons and they can’t go because of the policies.”
Belle Goldie of iTravel Penrith noted that there aren’t the same cumbersome requirements when taking land-based holidays, but cruise passengers still have to jump through loopholes.
The Penrith-based travel agent has a lot of families that want to go cruising with their children. But due to requirements from cruise lines like P&O, that no more than five per cent of guests are unvaccinated, many are being forced to cancel.
“I’ve got a lot of families that are stressed, and they’ve had to cancel because the itinerary is over the five per cent unvaccinated cap.”
She said that the families are being forced to cancel because there’s no end in sight. They don’t even want to use the FCCs that they have.
“I’m reminding them that their FCC is expiring, and they still don’t want to cruise because they’re concerned about COVID on board and confused by testing requirements. They’re saying they want to wait until they can travel normally without a mask or testing.”
NSW Health still recommends that cruise ship passengers have the necessary vaccinations for COVID-19 and they strongly recommend the second booster if eligible. They also suggest people avoid travelling if they have any COVID-19 symptoms or have tested positive in the week before their trip.
The Federal Health Department also recommends that travellers are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 before travelling domestically or internationally. They also advise against cruising if you are not up to date with your travel vaccinations or have an increased risk of developing serious illness following COVID-19. As the situation is constantly evolving, they advise checking the Smart Traveller advice on cruising.
Miss Goldie added: “Cruising in Australia doesn’t feel like cruising and even as an agent I still think ‘have I done everything’ and once you’re on board, ‘do I have to wear a mask’. It’s good stepping on board but we need to remove those things to make cruising great and easy for everyone again.”
That is a contrast with American cruising she said. “The thing with America is they’ve made it very easy and people can just go. While Australia is 18 months behind.”
Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Reg have said they’ll welcome all passengers regardless of vaccination status on many international voyages and roll back testing requirements for vaccinated passengers.
How much have cruise bookings gone up in America?
Some major cruise lines have seen a jump in the number of bookings after announcing the changes. Carnival Cruise Line in America, for example, said last week that those numbers on August 15 were almost double the equivalent day in 2019, days after the line announced changes to its protocols.
Starting September 6, the line will no longer require unvaccinated travellers to obtain an exemption for sailings fewer than 16 nights, and vaccinated passengers will not have to take a COVID test before those trips, with some exceptions.
“We have previously disclosed strong occupancy projections for the summer, and our bookings through the end of 2022 have also been very solid,” Christine Duffy, the line’s president, said in a press statement.
“With the further alignment of protocols to other vacation choices, our guests are booking the remaining 2022 inventory and getting a head start planning for 2023. Mid-August is typically not a busy month for cruise bookings, but it’s clear that pent-up demand for Carnival has not been satisfied and guests are responding very favourably to our updated protocols.”
Norwegian Cruise Line saw a similarly positive response after the company said it would drop pre-cruise testing for vaccinated travellers and welcome all unvaccinated passengers aboard.
President and CEO Frank Del Rio said during an August 9 earnings call that following the announcement, the cruise line operator saw “one of our top three best booking days of the year.”