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San Diego cruise business takes huge hit as lines cancel voyages late into the year due to COVID

Lori Weisberg, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Business News

SAN DIEGO -- San Diego's once bustling cruise industry is facing a huge economic hit as major lines, from Disney to Holland America, are canceling scheduled voyages well into the remainder of the year because of the still serious threat of COVID-19.

At a time when the city would normally be preparing to launch next month its fall-to-spring cruise season, the Centers for Disease Control has now extended its no-sail order through Sept. 30, while individual cruise lines have decided to take even more aggressive steps, with some deciding to nix planned sailings into mid-December.

In all, San Diego is losing 49 cruise calls accounting for 174,000 passengers, according to the Port of San Diego. In terms of passengers, that represents a nearly 40% drop in what the port had been expecting for the upcoming season. In the last couple of weeks, the numbers have been changing almost daily as cruise companies rethink their readiness to sail amid a still raging pandemic.

Before the arrival of the novel coronavirus, there were some 137 scheduled cruise calls locally and an expected passenger count of 450,00 between September and May of next year -- the highest in a decade after San Diego began rebuilding its badling slumping cruise industry post-recession.

In normal times, the arrival and departure of cruise ships from the piers on San Diego bay are a boon to local tourism, with passengers staying overnight in hotels and frequenting local restaurants, shops and attractions. With the cancellation of nearly 50 cruise calls, the estimated hit to San Diego's economy is $79 million, port officials say. That's on top of the more than $50 million economic blow the county suffered earlier this year when cruises were canceled toward the tail end of the 2019-20 cruise season that ended in May.

"The cruise lines would all still like to be cruising as soon as possible but that's still to be determined," said the port's Adam Deaton, who works directly with the cruise lines. "I've talked to our three main customers, and they don't want to rush it. They're hoping the COVID numbers will come down but with the current spike, it may be hard to talk about that now. We learn something new every week with this virus so it's hard to say whether it's too soon or not."

 

Of the 49 canceled cruises, 12 are on Disney chips and 17 on Holland America vessels, which operate the largest number of sailings out of San Diego. Many of those cruises were destined for the Mexican Riviera, but there were also planned sailings to the Panama Canal and Hawaii.

While the major trade group that represents oceangoing cruise lines recently decided to voluntarily suspend sailings in U.S. waters through Oct. 31 -- a month later than the CDC no-sail order -- Holland America announced this week it was canceling all cruises through Dec. 15.

"Our return to cruising will be determined by many factors, of course," said Holland America President Gus Antorcha in an emailed statement. "As soon as society is ready and cruising resumes with all approvals, we anticipate to begin sailing as soon as possible in important key markets such as San Diego, where we historically have a strong presence for cruises to Mexico."

Princess Cruises also paused its schedule through Dec. 15, and Disney Cruise Line has canceled Mexico sailings on the Disney Wonder through Nov. 20.

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