US cruise lines say cruising Cuba holidays would take time
At the recent annual gathering of the Cruise Shipping Miami Conference, industry officials talked about when US-Cuba relations may allow US ships to operate on Cuba and if that were to happen 4 to 5 years would be needed to renovate the island's old ports
US cruise companies have shown avid interest to add Cuba holidays to their itineraries; but it has been generally agreed that even if US policy allowed for that to happen, Cuba's sea ports would still need years of rebuilding to accommodate modern ships, industry officials said on Wednesday.
"Our business has grown so much that these ports in Cuba that were (established) in the time of the Spanish conquistadors, that size of ports, they're going to need a lot of infrastructure improvement," – said John Tercek, vice president of commercial development for Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, during an industry conference in Miami.
The world's 3 largest cruise companies -- Carnival Corp & Plc, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, which is owned by US private equity firms Apollo Management LP and TPG Capital LP and by Genting Hong Kong Ltd, which are all headquartered in Miami would be eager to start operating cruises to take travellers to Cuba holidays and reap in the many benefits of working with this popular Caribbean holiday destination.
However, it is widely known that hey are prohibited by the U.S. from doing business with nearby communist Cuba (let alone sell cruise Cuba holidays), under a policy aimed at depriving Cuba of US dollars until it adopts a democratic system and releases political prisoners.
The Caribbean region is the top holiday destination for cruise lines because of its year-round mild weather and close proximity to North America, which is the source of more than 70 % of all cruise passengers globally. Thus cruise companies would be able to make big profits when entering the Cuba holidays market to their portfolio.
"The moment Cuba comes into the market, I think it's another star," - said St Lucia Tourism Minister Allen Chastanet.
Because Cuba holidays would be a novelty to most American passengers, it could draw traffic away from other main Caribbean ports, industry officials said. However it was also said that it would be likely that the attention focused on newly opened Cuba holidays would also generate more interest in the Caribbean overall, creating a bigger tourism pie for all to share.
"When Cuba opens up, it's going to be great for everybody;" - Royal Caribbean's Tercek continued - "We'll all find interesting ways to grow with it."
But of course, no overnight changes are expected by anyone.
"The general assumption -- that if the US administration dropped their restrictions, there's going to be a mass exodus of all the ships to Cuba -- is clearly not going to happen," commented Colin Murphy, vice president for destination and strategic development for Norwegian Cruise Line. - "No one knows what the government of Cuba will do. So if there's a change in policy from the US administration, it doesn't mean we're necessarily going to be welcomed with open arms there."
If US-Cuba relations thawed, the first US cruise ships to take passengers to Cuba holidays would likely be the smaller ones. It could take 4 to 5 years to refit Cuba's old ports to accommodate the modern 150,000-plus-ton mega-ships that now ply the Caribbean waters and carry thousands of passengers, they said.
"Nothing's going to happen super-quick," - Murphy said. - "The ports are antiquated."
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