NCL CEO Confident Ruling Allowing Cruise Line to Require Proof of Vaccination Will Remain
Norwegian Cruise Line hit an important milestone in their return from the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this week when Norwegian Gem set sail from PortMiami. The ship was the first from the cruise line to sail from Miami since March 2020 and in more good news, the ship embarked from the line’s brand new terminal, the very first to do so.
NCL President Harry Sommer joined Porthole Cruise and Travel Magazine founder and Editor-in-Chief Bill Panoff to discuss the latest updates from his cruise line, including the legal battle for vaccine mandates, the dangers posed by the Delta variant of COVID-19 and if the industry is poised to make a full comeback.
Check out the full interview below!
Will the mandatory vaccination requirement be overturned by Florida’s appeal?
Earlier this month when U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams ruled that the state of Florida failed “to provide a valid evidentiary, factual, or legal predicate” for banning vaccine passports, Norwegian Cruise Line became free to require all passengers on board their ships to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The fear of repercussion from the state of Florida, who had threatened fines for each passenger who was asked to provide proof of vaccination, was no longer a concern. However, an appeal to a higher court is still a possibility for the state.
Sommer was asked his reaction to the ruling and he offered a timeline for Florida’s appeal to a higher court.
“We have no beef with Governor DeSantis and the state of Florida. The Governor has been a huge supporter of the cruise industry over many years, his entire tenure as Governor, and we really appreciate it. We just disagreed with him on this one point regarding cruises, I should say,” Sommer said. “We believe that in order to create the safest possible environment for our guests, we would require full vaccines. Apparently he and the state legislature did not. We didn’t believe they had the authority under the U.S. Constitution to ban us from asking this for a number of reasons and fortunately the judge agreed with us. We are happy that the legal basis for asking for vaccinations was accepted by the judge, it looks like it won’t be an expedited appeal, so it looks like we will be able to do this for many, many months to come.”
Sommer also added that the appeal of the ruling won’t come until sometime next year, so there’s hope that the situation as a whole has resolved itself by then.
Will the Delta Variant Bring Cruising Back to A Halt?
While U.S. vaccination rates continue to rise across the country, the concerning rise of the Delta variant is something industries all over the country have been paying attention to. Sommer was asked if this new variant of the virus could potentially cause another interruption just as the industry is starting to return to service around the world.
“In the short term, there is some concern. We are, of course, big advocates of vaccinations and we would wish that the remaining adults, there are tens of millions of adults in this country that are eligible to be vaccinated but aren’t. It’s our strong wish to remove politics from this and for everyone to go out and get vaccinated because we believe that is the right way. I think in the short-run, cruises in August, September, October, we’re going to continue at reduced occupancies so the fact that there’s probably a little less demand with Delta out there is okay for us. But we still continue to be really optimistic for [quarter one] and beyond,” he said.
Will NCL Make a Full Comeback?
Throughout the interview, Sommer seemed optimistic for not just his cruise line’s comeback, but the industry as a whole. Sommer was asked whether or not he thought the industry is poised for a full recovery.
“I do, Bill. I think that at NCL, we’ve really done our best to set the bar. As you know, we require all our guests to be 100% vaccinated before boarding, as well as our crew, as well as the shore excursion providers we operate with so guests can feel safe, that they’re traveling with other 100% vaccinated individuals,” Sommer said. “Plus, we require everyone to be fully tested before boarding the ship and we’re testing our crew on a weekly basis on top of that. Guests can really feel comfortable that they’re probably in the safest place in the United States when they go on a cruise. I don’t know of any other place that requires mandatory vaccines and testing before entering a facility in the US, so you really should feel safe.”