On 24th May, 2021, US President Joe Biden (pictured) signed into law the H.R. 1318 – ‘Alaska Tourism Restoration Act.’
This temporarily allows foreign-flagged cruise ships to sail directly from Washington State to Alaska without having to dock in Canada first.
The Bill is in effect until either the date on which Canada lifts restrictions prohibiting cruise ships from docking in its waters, due to COVID-19, or 31st March, 2022
Earlier, the US House of Representatives had passed the act. The legislation, led by US Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, and Congressman Don Young, all (R-AK), provides cruise ships transporting passengers between the State of Washington and the State of Alaska a temporary reprieve under the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA).
Due to the Canadian prohibition on passenger vessels transiting through Canadian waters, large cruise ships would not have been able to sail to Alaska, as the PVSA requires a stop in a foreign country.
“COVID-19 has devastated Alaska’s tourism industry. After missing the 2020 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, Alaskans across the state have been feeling fear, anxiety, and uncertainty over whether or not their jobs—their livelihoods—could survive another cancelled cruise ship season.
“For many, the advice was just to ‘get through to 2022’, but for the Delegation, that was simply not acceptable. Together, we committed to bringing Alaskans some level of relief,” said Senator Murkowski.
“We’ve been working every angle to find a path forward for this critical industry. Alaskans shared their worries and needs, giving us valuable insight and perspectives. We worked with stakeholders and industry leaders across the state to brainstorm all our options and to find solutions that could work for the unique challenges facing our state. We were in close co-ordination with the Alaska State Legislature who strongly backed our efforts through a resolution of support.
“Overall, this is a huge victory, but getting this bill across the finish line represents more than just the determination of the Delegation—this is a testament to the strength and resilience of all Alaskans. Thank you to everyone who came together to help create the momentum needed to forge a path forward, including my Senate colleagues. I remain optimistic that this legislation will allow a level of safe cruising to resume this summer, giving communities some semblance of a tourist season,” she said.
“Today is a great day for Alaska, for our small businesses all across the state, and for Congress. Members from both sides of the aisle—and in both chambers—have come together to help their fellow Americans who are hurting,” added Senator Sullivan.
“Hundreds of Alaska’s small business owners, who have put their savings, their hopes and their dreams into their businesses, were on the brink of being ruined as a result of the pandemic and the fact that our short cruise ship season was about to be cancelled again.
“Our friends in Canada could have helped us here when we really needed them, and it’s unfortunate that they ultimately did not. But thanks to bipartisan co-operation of Congress and the unrelenting advocacy of Alaska’s delegation, our state is open for business and poised to welcome cruise ship passengers this summer. 2021 will not be the robust cruise ship season we have had in previous years, or was forecast this year before the pandemic hit, but there will be ships, and there will be people, and that is excellent for Alaska,” he said.
“Today truly is a great day for the State of Alaska and our communities in Southeast. Alaska’s tourism economy depends on the summer cruise season. The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the tourism sector and caused undue stress on the Alaskan small businesses that rely on being able to welcome visitors from around the world,”commented Congressman Young.
“Families in Southeast have been kept awake at night from the stress-driven by uncertainty surrounding the upcoming season.
“Today’s passage of the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act brings urgently needed good news to our mom and pop small businesses. This bill solves one-half of the puzzle for the resumption of the 2021 Alaska cruise season, and now it is the CDC’s turn to act decisively and promulgate the guidance the industry needs to set sail for Alaska.
“Even before we had effective vaccines, the CDC allowed airlines, trains, and other hospitality providers to operate unencumbered. On the other hand, cruise lines were singled out and held to a much more prohibitive standard that would have put the final nail in the coffin for the 2021 season.
“However, in recent weeks, I have worked with the Administration, and I want to thank them for seeing the bigger picture and honouring their commitment to work with the industry to find a path forward under the Conditional Sail Order. I urge the CDC and the Administration to bring that work to fruition so that ships may sail to Alaska.
“Today’s bill passage comes at a critical time. Infections are down, mask mandates are being relaxed, and over 60% of the adult population has received at least one dose of the vaccine. We are turning a corner, and it is time to let our tourism sector get back to normal.
“This bill speaks to the dogged determination of the Alaska Delegation, and I am very grateful for the help of Senators Murkowski and Sullivan. Following Senate passage of the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act, John Horgan, Premier of British Columbia, described our effort as a ‘blip’ that would not go any further than the Senate. Now that the bill is headed to the President’s desk and cruises will bypass Canada entirely, I am sure that Premier Horgan will never again underestimate the ‘small but mighty’ Alaska Congressional Delegation.
“We now have a path forward for a 2021 cruise season, and I am confident that Alaskans will all do their part to ensure a safe and prosperous tour season. To those who will be visiting our state this summer, I say ‘welcome to Alaska; we are open for business!” he concluded.