As cruise line operations have ground to a halt, a debate rages on whether the industry deserves federal assistance. President Trump has mentioned cruise lines as a possible beneficiary of the coronavirus-outbreak” target=”_self” rel=”nofollow noopener noreferrer”>coronavirus stimulus bill close to passage.
However, opposition was swift, both in the nation’s capital and on social media. Politicians object to the industry’s use of foreign-flagged ships and its environmental record. Several environmental groups—including Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace—also publicly opposed any bailout to the cruise industry.
Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, tweeted her objection and joined four others to sign a letter to congressional leadership.
Leading a letter to hold the cruise industry accountable. They pay little in taxes (like 1%), pollute the environment, & stiff passengers who have to cancel cruises w/the bill. If they want bailout $$$ from the U.S. government, they have to play by our rules & uphold our values! pic.twitter.com/78ZmRzxZqE
— Jackie Speier (@RepSpeier) March 23, 2020
“For decades, cruise companies have deliberately dodged U.S. taxes by incorporating in tax shelters and registering vessels under foreign flags,” the letter said in part. “Operating foreign-flagged vessels also allows cruise lines to circumvent U.S. labor, safety and regulatory requirements. While low tax rates and labor costs have allowed cruise companies to net sizable profits, the industry has spent billions on share repurchasing to line the pockets of executives and investors and failed to invest in addressing its abysmal environmental record and massive carbon footprint.”
So far, the cruise industry does not appear to be included in what could be a $2 trillion rescue plan, Terry Dale, president and CEO of the U.S. Tour Operators Association (USTOA), noted in an email update late March 23.
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“President Trump continues to indicate his support for the cruise lines, saying yesterday during a press conference that the federal government can’t let the cruise industry fail due to the coronavirus pandemic,” Dale noted. “It is important to note that the current version of the Senate Republican legislation does not mention them specifically. The President stated, ‘We can’t let the cruise lines go out of business.’”
The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which represents cruise companies globally, said it is not lobbying for a bailout.
“As it relates to the rescue package, cruise lines are not lobbying for a bailout. CLIA and our members agree that the most important stimulus the government can provide on behalf of the wider cruise community in the United States is help for small- and medium-sized businesses, including a vast network of travel agencies, tour operators and suppliers, with a presence in all 50 states,” CLIA spokeswoman Bari Golin-Blaugrund wrote in an email.
She also notes that the cruise industry is a $53 billion community in the U.S. and supports over 421,000 jobs or approximately one job for every 30 cruisers.
“Unfortunately, the now-worldwide suspension of operations will impact families and communities in the United States,” she continued. “We know that for every 1 percent drop in cruising from the United States, up to 2,000 American jobs can be lost. We are asking Congress to provide assistance for those businesses who make up the wider cruise community.”
In 2018, CLIA said, the cruise industry paid $1.3 billion in taxes and fees to the U.S., including $170 million in federal taxes, $350 million in state and local taxes, $345 million in U.S. port and other service charges and fees, $50 million in corporate income taxes, $371 million in wage taxes, $23 million in sales and excise taxes, and $7 million in other taxes.
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Cruise Companies Should Continue to Invest in Sustainable Technology
Research from GlobalData shows that travelers remain committed to seeking out sustainable options when traveling and suggests that cruise companies keep their eye on the ball.
More than one-third (34 percent) of respondents to GlobalData’s Coronavirus Consumer Survey have said they are still interested in news about a brand’s sustainability initiatives, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
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“The main priority for cruise companies at this moment is survival. This will rightly be the main focus until a sense of normality returns to the industry,” Ben Cordwell, travel and tourism analyst at GlobalData, said. “However, companies need to be aware that throwing all their resources at this challenge could have serious repercussions in the long term.”
Cruise companies have increasingly relied on technological advances to operate in more environmentally friendly ways, including using cleaner fuels to curb emissions and reducing the cost of fuel. Cruises are also using digital capabilities that allow for analysis of weather conditions and the optimization of propulsion rate and speed.
Hurtigruten is one cruise line that is leading the way with sustainable practices. Last year, the line introduced its first hybrid vessel, the MS Roald Amundsen, and it has announced that it is converting three more of its existing ships to hybrid power, too.
After a reset to the travel industry as a whole due to the coronavirus pandemic, many consumers may look to move forward with vacations that put less stress on the environment.
“As the general public’s awareness of environmental damage increases, some travelers are likely to be reluctant to go on a holiday with a large carbon footprint,” added Cordwell. “Therefore, it is essential that cruise companies continue to invest in sustainable technology to ensure they continue to attract customers in the years to come.”
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