SEATTLE — The cruise industry brings in big money for Seattle – and businesses that rely on that traffic will likely continue to feel the impact of coronavirus.
In 2019, Seattle celebrated its 20th year as a homeport for cruises, and anticipated a record 1.2 million visitors. But coronavirus brought the 2020 season to a grinding halt, stranding some passengers on board as companies scrambled to contain onboard outbreaks, and countries debated the safety of allowing potentially contagious passengers to disembark.
On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it was extending the ban on cruises in U.S. waters until the end of September.
That news comes as Seattle-based Holland America is selling four ships in its fleet.
Summer in Seattle without the frequent ships dropping thousands of passengers has been noticeably quieter, on top of social distancing measures keeping locals at home.
“Compared to last summer, it was crowds of people walking through shoulder to shoulder, now it’s not that at all, said Ngozi Archbold, working at the Pappardelle’s pasta stand in Pike Place Market. “Just like two to three people walking in groups.”
It’s another hardship for shops and restaurants that rely on the throngs of tourists for income.
“It’s definitely more locals, people checking it out, trying be safe, more than anything else,” Archbold said.
The Port of Seattle says the cruise industry brings in $900 million annually and each vessel that calls here brings with it $4.2 million regional economic activity.
Tom Norwalk, president and CEO of Visit Seattle, said it’s an "irreplaceable hole" in the economy.
“Back in March, our city and industry could not have imagined how long the COVID pandemic would affect travel globally,” Norwalk said in a statement. “It is now apparent that recovery will take years. For Seattle, losing the cruise industry for this year adds to the anxiety of our industry and the many small businesses that were hoping for at least a partial cruise season.”
He said just this weekend, the city would have had 8 ships in town, were it not for the pandemic.
Adding to that concern, Seattle-headquartered Holland America announced it’s selling four of its ships: the Amsterdam, Maasdam, Rotterdam and Veendam.
The ships joined the fleet in the 1990s and the year 2000. All had visited Seattle, the company said, and the Amsterdam was homeported here last summer.
This reduces the fleet to 10 ships, Holland America said, though it plans to add an 11th in 2021.
Cruises booked on the ships will be canceled or changed, the company said. A spokeperson declined interviews beyond the company’s press release. The ships are being sold in pairs to two undisclosed companies.
So the question remains, how long will the pandemic — and tourism economic impacts rippling out from it — last? At Pike Place Market, which is reopening more businesses with safety measures, time will tell.
“The rest of the summer is going to be interesting,” Archbold said. “I would say it’s going to be a mixture of tourists that want to travel still, and a lot more locals as well.”