GALVESTON, Texas – The tourism industry, especially cruise ship-businesses, is bracing for a hit after The United States Department of State issued a stark warning urging Americans to not go on cruises amid coronavirus outbreak concerns.
“U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship," the State Department wrote in a statement Sunday. "CDC notes increased risk of infection of COVID-19 in a cruise ship environment.”
The cruise industry is a $1.5 billion boon to the Texas economy, and about $31 million of that money comes directly into Galveston.
The Port of Galveston is home to three major cruise lines, Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Disney. In 2019, more than one million people took cruises from Galveston.
But some businesses worry about how the government’s warning will impact their bottom line.
“We’re getting flooded with calls, people worried about it. We’ve gotten some cancellations, mostly elderly people are canceling,” said Rosalind Richard, a cruise travel agent with GalvestonCruises.com.
Other travel agents say the State Department’s advisory came as a surprise, as it was in direct contrast from what Vice President Mike Pence said in a meeting with cruise industry executives over the weekend.
“With the administration, we’re getting mixed messages. So, it was very shocking,” said Rey Alton with Almeda Travel and Travel Leaders.
Richard says the industry has faced similar fears in the past.
“We’ve had the Zika virus, we had the Ebola virus. It frightens people at first and then things kind of taper off," Richard said. “I’m hoping we’re at the peak right now and headed downhill, I really truly am. Hopefully we’ll make it through.”
“(As) of this point, we’ve seen no economic impact," said Port of Galveston Director Rodger Rees in a statement to KPRC 2. "The cruise business is important to the port, but I want to emphasize that we maintain a diversified business mix that includes cargo, lay ships, and other revenue streams. We also have built up revenue reserves to be prepared for situations like this that could interrupt our business.”