The rampant and prolonged COVID-19 shutdowns have imposed economic distress on countless individuals and businesses through no choice of their own, but some corporations are inflicting the pains of coronavirus regulations needlessly on themselves. Norwegian Cruise Line is threatening to be one such company.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation on May 3 to ban the requirement of “vaccine passports” in the state, following an April executive order with the same purpose. “In Florida, your personal choice regarding vaccinations will be protected and no business or government entity will be able to deny you services based on your decision,” DeSantis said at the signing. The bill authorizes a fine of up to $5,000 against any business, government entity, or educational institution in violation.
DeSantis confirmed the ban on vaccine passports would apply to cruise lines sailing out of Florida ports as well.
Frank Del Rio, the CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, suggested in an earnings call last week that the cruise line may suspend its use of ports in the Sunshine State. “God forbid we can’t operate in the state of Florida for whatever reason, then there are other states that we do operate from,” Del Rio said. “We can operate from the Caribbean for a ship that otherwise would have gone to Florida.”
“We certainly hope it doesn’t come to that,” he added. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings is based in Miami.
Del Rio says the vaccine passport ban is in conflict with guidelines the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued for cruise lines. The state of Florida has sued the CDC over its regulations, which require 95 percent of passengers to be vaccinated.
“We’re challenging the authority of the CDC to be involved to this extent,” DeSantis said Thursday morning. “The problem is the CDC,” he continued, “the problem is not Florida.”
In the same press conference, DeSantis made it clear he was not concerned about Del Rio’s threat. “Norwegian’s not one of the big ones,” he noted, adding that other cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and Carnival are “ready to go.”
“Cruise lines have been operating in other parts of the world where there’s no access to the vaccine,” DeSantis continued. If cruise lines like Norwegian don’t want to follow state laws, “that niche will get filled in Florida.”
DeSantis is right. Norwegian would be deeply foolish to boycott cruise ports in Florida. In addition to the Port of Miami, the city where Norwegian is headquartered, the cruise line sails out of Port Canaveral on the Atlantic coast and Tampa on the Gulf Coast. As the Norwegian website notes, most of its cruises to the Bahamas and to the Eastern Caribbean depart from Florida ports. Key West is also included as a destination port on some of Norwegian’s Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises.
“Florida is not only the center for cruise launches, it is the capital of nearly all aspects of the cruise industry,” said Cindy D’Aoust, the president and CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association, in 2017. Comparing 2016 and 2018 numbers, Business Observer reported the port of Tampa Bay was the “fastest-growing spot for cruise embarkations.”
Florida’s economy has already shown its resilience with relaxed reopening policies, compared to states like California and New York where Democrat governors have stretched restrictions into this year with disastrous economic results. Florida’s unemployment rate was down to 4.7 percent in March 2021, with California lagging at 8.3 percent and New York further behind at 8.5 percent. The only state in the country with a worse unemployment rate than New York in March was Hawaii at 9 percent; Hawaii also saw prolonged restrictions under its Democrat governor.
To suspend cruises from Florida ports instead of joining Florida’s booming economic recovery would be an even riskier gamble than those made in cruise ship casinos. If Del Rio follows through on his bluff, his cruise line will suffer far more than the state will.
Harry Sommer, President and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line, seemed to already be starting to backtrack in a “Good Morning America” appearance on Wednesday.
After Sommer alluded to hopes of a compromise, ABC’s Michael Strahan asked, “What does the compromise look like if the state doesn’t relent, are you prepared to keep ships out of Florida?”
“I don’t think it’s a question of relenting,” was Sommer’s PR-saturated non-answer. “I think it’s a question of us coming together with a common cause and a common goal, moving forward, and I’m confident and optimistic that we’ll be able to do that.”
It’s also worth noting that while Del Rio threatens to pull ships from Florida, Norwegian’s website lists cruises from the port of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, sailing in December 2021. The CDC website currently warns that “because of the current situation in Brazil even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants and should avoid all travel to Brazil.” Why is Del Rio concerned with pulling ships from Florida and not international ports?
Del Rio’s threat to boycott Florida is a stunt that will backfire harder the longer he entertains it. Like a tipsy cruise passenger at the slot machine, he should abandon the idea and cut his losses now.