We are dedicated cruise enthusiasts and have made many friends among the cruise ship staffs over the years. Often when we board a ship to begin a cruise we spend a fair amount of time catching up with these friends. Conversations range from finding how recently they’ve been home, how their families are doing and where they have been recently. There is always talk about contracts and ships and how long till the next break.
Beyond the fancy surroundings, the food, the entertainment venues and accommodations it’s the people that make the cruise experience. With hundreds of ships tied up to docks or anchored offshore going nowhere, what’s happening to all those crew members?
Tens of thousands of crew members have been stuck on their ships since the CDC issued a no-sail order for all cruise ships in mid-March. We might be quarantined at home but crew members from from an incredible number of nations currently have no clear timeline for when and how they will return to their home countries, with many nations having closed their ports and borders. While cruising may be about destinations, it’s also about the people who make those cruise experiences possible and who make the world a closer and friendlier place.
In a pandemic there is a lot of upheaval and reports about hardship brought on by COVID-19, but often not considered is the impact of this outbreak on the communities that make the tourism industry one of the world’s largest economic sectors, supporting one in ten jobs (350 million) worldwide. Travel is a huge part of the global economy. For those of us who love to travel, our hearts should be with these communities and people that are suffering.
In the cruise industry your waiter, cabin steward, bartender and dozens of other crew members aren’t just earning a living, they are supporting families and local economies in places like Malaysia, Honduras, St. Lucia, Indonesia, Mauritius. A majority of businesses in these places are micro-enterprises, small-scale operations with workers and owners completely dependent on each day’s business. It is not uncommon for upwards of eighty-five percent of economies in these countries to be dependent on such business which may employ over seventy percent of the countries workforce.
We may be stuck at home but our cruise ship friends are stuck far from home and their future may be way more uncertain. Crews on cruise ships and the company management consider themselves family but in these hard times there is only so much that can be done. Holland America said in a recent statement:
“We continue to work with the appropriate authorities in their home nations on the best way to get our crew members home as soon as possible. Until such arrangements are finalized, crew will remain onboard our ships where they are safe and taken care of.”
A travel association predicts a 31 percent drop (over $350 billion in 2020) in travel spending by just U.S. citizens alone. This will affect incalculable numbers of people living in the world’s major travel destinations along with having serious additional impact on cultural preservation groups, eco-tourist programs and natural environment protection funds.
If you are cruise enthusiasts like us it is becoming extremely important to more than just us that we get back to cruising as quickly as possible. There aren’t just bargains out there to be had, there are people, families and communities around the world that depend on the money we spend in the travel industry.