TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – As Florida and the cruise industry struggle over COVID-19 vaccination requirements, the chief executive of Celebrity Cruises said Tuesday her company's passengers will continue to be asked about their vaccination status to assure ships are "safe and healthy."
Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, president and CEO of Miami-based Celebrity, told members of the Economic Club of Florida that the company is voluntarily following recommendations of experts at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means passengers age 12 and older must complete a health questionnaire before boarding, with separate protocols onboard for people who are unvaccinated.
The company also continues to work with Gov. Ron DeSantis' office, as Florida has banned businesses from requiring customers to show documentation of being vaccinated --- a concept known as "vaccine passports."
But Lutoff-Perlo said Celebrity must also listen to the "school of public opinion," which requires cruise businesses to operate "in a safe and healthy environment."
"At the end of the day it doesn't matter what the governor of the state of Florida says. It doesn't matter what the CDC says. Our business depends on operating in a safe and healthy environment," said Lutoff-Perlo, who appeared by video during the economic club's lunch meeting at the Florida State University Alumni Center.
Lutoff-Perlo, whose cruise line is a subsidiary of Royal Caribbean Group, said ships are sailing with fully vaccinated crews and at least 95 percent of the passengers fully vaccinated.
"The state of Florida does not tell us we can't ask (whether people are vaccinated). They tell us we can't require it," Lutoff-Perlo said. "And so, we are working within those constraints to ensure that we live up to our commitment, as a brand, that we will sail at least 95 percent vaccinated."
On Sunday, U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams backed arguments from Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings that the state's vaccine-passport ban violates the First Amendment and what is known as the dormant Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The Miami-based Williams wrote that the law is a "content-based restriction" on speech, as it targets documentation but allows businesses to request other information from customers about issues such as vaccinations. The ruling at least temporarily cleared the way for Norwegian to require customers to show documentation that they have been vaccinated.
The governor's office has said it plans to appeal the ruling to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The cruise industry shut down in March 2020 after high-profile outbreaks of COVID-19 onboard ships.
Celebrity, which spent most of the 15 months of its shutdown planning how to reopen safety, caters to Baby Boomers and Gen X people.
Lutoff-Perlo said her company continues to work with DeSantis' office on protocols for unvaccinated guests. But she said current rules have resulted in many of those potential passengers deciding not to cruise at this time. The current rules include limiting areas on board that unvaccinated guests can access. Also, unvaccinated guests are not allowed into some foreign ports.
"We're finding our way," Lutoff-Perlo said. "So, while it hasn't been easy, we're still able to do exactly what we said we were going to do and provide a safe and healthy environment for our guests."
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