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“href =” https://www.law360.com/hospitality/articles/1318840/# “> Carolina Bolado Law360 (October 29, 2020, 1:25 p.m. EDT) – As Key West residents vote on a proposal that will ban With large cruise ships to dock on the island of Florida, residents of other overcrowded ports are watching the results closely as they use the cruise break caused by the coronavirus pandemic to reassess their relationship with the industry.
If passed by voters on November 3, the proposed charter changes would limit the number of people disembarking from cruise ships to a total of 1,500 per day and block ships with a capacity of more than 1,300 people, passengers and crew included, docking. They would also demand that the port give priority to cruise lines with the best environmental and health records.
For residents of other cruise ports, the vote is seen as an important step towards regaining control of their communities. If others decide to do the same, the result could upend an industry reeling from the pandemic and leave large cruise ships with an increasingly shrinking map of potential stops.
“It’s about self-determination and the community that decides what they want in their community rather than the cruise industry that decides,” said Karla Hart of the Global Cruise Activist Network, or GCAN, a new global group of cruise port residents calling for change. in the cruise industry. “The cruise industry is stepping in and having a huge impact on the community and the community has little say in what’s going on.”
The Key West Committee for Safer Cleaner Ships, which sponsored the proposed amendments, and the GCAN are products of the coronavirus pandemic, when cruises became floating epicenters of COVID-19 outbreaks and small port communities with Limited health care facilities feared that a ship full of infected visitors could cause a local outbreak.
At the start of the pandemic in March, Key West was full of spring breakers, snowbirds, cruise passengers and other tourists, and residents began to fear what it would mean if an epidemic struck there. , according to Arlo Haskell, the treasurer of the Cleaner, Safer Ships Committee.
“One of the things we looked at was the hospital capacity of our area,” Haskell said. “We found a way to measure Key West against other Florida ports and harbors across the country. Key West has fewer hospital beds per cruise port and more visitors per capita than any other cruise port.
But it is not only public health concerns that motivate the inhabitants of port cities to fight against the industry.
In Key West, Haskell said the environmental benefits of the lack of ships are clearly visible to residents, who say the water hasn’t been so clear in decades.
“You can see that when these big ships come in they raise these silt clouds,” he says. “Now it’s just obvious that in seven months without the ships, the water quality has improved dramatically. I think many supporters react to this environmental benefit.
Hart, who lives in Juneau, Alaska, said that every day in an average summer, four cruise ships could be docked at the port, unloading between 12,000 and 17,000 day trippers in a community of just 32,000. She said the industry had replaced the independent, shore-based group tours that existed there, and because cruise ship passengers were given priority under cruise line contracts with local tour operators, independent tourists take a back seat and become what she calls second-class tourists. “
“I had a business that specialized in organizing independent itineraries, and I left it partly because I love my city, but I found that I could no longer recommend it because it was become so overgrown, ”Hart said. “The whole experience was about cruise ships and maximizing profits for cruise ships. And everyone was just collateral damage.”
She said when other communities in Alaska tried to exert local control and implement regulations, the industry responded by punishing them and removing the ships altogether.
Representatives of Carnival Corp. and Norwegian Cruise Lines did not respond to requests for comment on this story. A representative from Royal Caribbean directed Law360 to the Cruise Lines International Association, or CLIA, which did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
There is little data available on the popularity of the proposed Key West charter changes, but Haskell said a poll funded by CLIA and disclosed to his group showed a majority of respondents support each of the three proposals. The amendment that would force the city to prioritize cruise lines with the best environmental and health records has received around 80% support, according to Haskell.
The proposals have drawn opposition from the Key West Bar Pilots Association, a group of harbor pilots that filed a lawsuit in July in an attempt to prevent referendums from being entered on the ballot. In August, U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King declined to kick off the proposed amendments from the ballot, but said if the initiatives were to be passed, the port pilots could return to court and argue against them.
In the lawsuit, port pilots claim that the cruise ship industry represents an economic impact of $ 85 million in Key West and is responsible for 1,250 jobs and 15% of the city’s total tax revenue.
But Key West Mayor Teri Johnston said the tax impact of the changes to the city would be minimal, as any disembarkation fees charged by the city must, by law, be used to improve the port and other facilities for the cruise ship industry.
“There is basically no money going into general funds,” she said. “It comes right back to port security at the wharf, things of that nature.”
And cruise tourists, who don’t spend money on expensive hotel stays or dining on the island, make up a small fraction of Key West’s tourism dollars, she said.
Johnston said when the Cleaner, Safer Ships Committee gathered enough signatures to get the proposals on the ballot, she took to the cruise industry to discuss residents’ concerns and said that they “had very good conversations”.
“The cruise industry was very open about tradeoffs and the things they could do, but not necessarily with the size of the ships,” she said. “But they were prepared to make concessions. We should have had this conversation years ago, because the referendum is set.”
– Edited by Jill Coffey and Emily Kokoll.
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