Cruise Companies Discuss New Cuban Market in Miami

Miami, world cruise capital and venue of the cruise industry mega-convention

Daniel Benitez  (Cafe Fuerte)

Cruise ship in Havana Bay.  Photo: Juan Suarez
Cruise ship in Havana Bay. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — The number of foreign tourists who arrived in Cuba on cruise ships increased by 3,000 passengers during January in comparison to the same period last year, a rather tempting figure for the top representatives of cruise operators gathered this week in Miami Beach.

According to Cuba’s National Statistics and Information Bureau (ONEI), the total number of travelers who reached Cuban ports during the first month of the year rose to 3,937 passengers. Cuban tourism authorities expect some 212 stopovers by 13 cruisers during the current season, which began in November and will last till April.

The publication of this data coincides with Cruise Shipping Miami, a world cruise industry mega-convention which could not avoid the debate regarding the potential benefits of including Cuba in cruise itineraries, while the world awaits the complete normalization of relations between Washington and Havana.

Thinking Cuba’s Reforms

The most important meeting between cruise ship owners and operators around the world, to be held today at 9:30 am, will address the way in which Cuba’s new relations with the United States could help develop the tourism market on the island.

The panel, titled The State of the Cruise Industry: The Future of the Caribbean & How it is Being Re-Shaped, includes the participation of the presidents of the main cruise companies operating in the international market today: Michael Bayley, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International, Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line, Richard E. Sasso, president of MSC Cruceros and Andy Stuart, president of Norwegian Cruise Line.

The keynote address will be offered by Michele M. Paige, president of the Florida – Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA).

Though approval for travel to Cuba by US tourists on cruisers will depend on the lifting of the embargo, authorization for a passenger vessel to travel to the island for educational or cultural reasons would depend only on the US Treasury Department.

The benefits are clearly on sight. Last year, the Louis Cristal cruiser, rented out to the Louis group by the Canadian company Cuba Cruise, included the island in its itinerary for the first time and has scheduled a Monday departure from Havana and a Friday departure from Montego Bay for the season that began on December 22 last year. The ship will dock at six ports, including Santiago de Cuba and Cienfuegos, and trips will be offered until March 30.

New Cuba Itinerary

This past Tuesday, the company announced a new itinerary for the 2015-2016 season which includes a two-day stop in Havana and a stopover at the Maria la Gorda beach in the province of Pinar del Rio.

The Canadian company offers a direct Toronto-Havana flight and transfers passengers to the Havana port, a semi-open door for hundreds of US travelers.

ONEI reports that some 371,160 tourists arrived in Cuba during the first month of 2015. Of these, 181,101 (48.8 percent) were Canadian. Canada continues to be the main tourism source country for Cuba.

The second country on the list was Germany, with 15,832 visitors. England takes the third position with 14,526 visitors.

The number of tourists arriving in Cuba during January has gradually increased over the past three years, from 293,329 to 371,160 visitors.

10 thoughts on “Cruise Companies Discuss New Cuban Market in Miami

  • I went on the Cuba Cruise last week and I’m an American. Great time in all of the ports. Many of the comments below are accurate. Cuba guys did not stamp my passport, fyi, and I had no issues coming home. I just wish I had brought more ‘gifts’ for the local people like toilet paper, gum, panty hose, etc…

  • La Habana is ready for cruise ships to come in and the terminal which was built several years ago can handle passengers. Now, is it the best? No. The entire complex was built several years ago and it is a very nice structure but then came a time when Fidel castro made one of his moves and decided that that type of tourism was detrimental and was messing up the bay, etc., etc. and thus cruise lines went away!! But kid yourself not, two major players in the field have been to Cuba in the past and know what is there and what is not so it would be a matter of “re-shaping”. Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Matanzas can be easy to get into by the ships but would need to have the appropriate infrastructure built to handle arriving passengers (i.e. immigration & customs) and it could be minimal in the sense that PAX would only come off the ships for sightseeing, eating, etc. which can be handled by local taxis, etc. Santiago de Cuba has the port but also has a cable running across the bay that represents a problem but the ships can easily anchor off the bay and use their tenders to move PAX. Yes, I have consulted in this matter in the past with various companies/individuals and I am very familiar with the areas discussed.

  • Crystal Cruises has been purchased by the Hong Kong company Genting which also is a major stock holder of Norwegian Cruise Lines.

  • I’ve just returned from two weeks in Cuba . I am European. I have also wished that Cuba will not change but I too think this is selfish. I agree that the people of Cuba should live in the current century. The buildings are delapidated but changes are happening. Cuba offers a holiday steeped in history, is unspoilt and your people are lovely. Looking at other cities around the world improvements can happen with sensitivity to the history and yes ‘charm’. I sensed more Cuban people looked unhappy this holiday. I saw tourists throwing sweets, pencils etc to groups of children whilst on a tour trip and this moved me to tears, not because of the plight of the children but due to the ‘zoo’ effect it produced. We visits ducks in the park, feed them bread and more come to compete for the bread. That’s what watching these children and tourists reminded me of. If you had wider access to things we take for granted this would not need to happen. I hoours or you that your country moves into the current century but also hope it offers your fellow countrymen and children opportunities and that foreign investors do not take over. I love Cuba and hope it retains its charm.

  • Press lease today :::
    From meeting in Miami :::
    Cuba Potential

    Looking at the potential in Cuba, Del Rio, whose brands include Oceania Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Norwegian Cruise
    Line, was perhaps the most eager, although Arnold and Fain also said
    they wanted to include Cuba when the U.S. government lifts the embargo
    on trade restrictions.

    A proud Cuban American, Del Rio told
    Travel Agent a year or two ago that he had itineraries already made up
    and in an office cabinet, just waiting for the loosening of government
    restrictions on U.S. trade.

    Once the embargo is lifted,“yes, we’re ready,” said Del Rio, snapping his fingers and noting “just like that.” He says that the wonderful thing about the cruise industry is that it brings along its own infrastructure.

    “So yes, we’re ready and I would bet all of us in this town are ready at a drop of the hat.”
    He said many lines already go to places across the globe that are less
    developed than Cuba, and points out that Cuba is only 220 miles from

    Quest asked the same question of the panel and said,“Are you ready?”

    “I’m not sure any of us are ready,” Fain said, hesitated a bit, then adding:“Cuba is such an amazing opportunity.”
    Yes, he said, his lines will be there but companies still have a lot to
    learn about every country they enter. Cultural and infrastructure elements come into play, but, he acknowledged, “part of the beauty of the cruise industry is that it does adapt.”

    agreed with Del Rio on many of the points and also said his group will
    be headed to Cuba too, but that “wherever we go we have a responsibility
    not only to assure that guests are safe and have a great time, but that
    it’s a great experience for the destination as well.”

    Vago got a
    laugh from the audience when he said “I’m European. We’re already
    there,” as MSC as a foreign company is not subject to the U.S. embargo.

  • There are many European tourists who lament how they hope that “Cuba will not change” despite the increase in US tourism. That is a terribly selfish comment. Cubans want and deserve to live in the 21st century. Treating Cuba like a human zoo to be visited and enjoyed but left to decay in unfair to Cubans.

  • We did have a nice time I can assure you and as a matter of fact most European cruisers ( I am one myself ) don’t care for black tie and sequin dresses that’s why you can choose between different cruises . You are possible right about Cuba not being ready to receive American cruisers , Europeans couldn’t care less where the sight of different cities and places are much more important. By the way as a matter of fact you walk from the ship ( Havana) directly onto the streets of Havanna so no need for a modern cruise terminal. Havanna is rundown and very dilapidated and we did feel sorry for people who live there we are not blind and we can think, saying that it was still amazing to see it all with our own eyes , hope to go back in the near future.

  • I am glad to hear you had a nice time. Your preference for “rustic” style cruising is the exception and not the norm. Most cruisers want to be pampered. That explains the ice sculptures and the sequin dresses at dinner. I am always amused when foreigners visit Cuba and leave after a week or even a few days with words like ‘charming’ and ‘back in time’. Those are euphemisms for rundown and dilapidated. If you had to live in Cuba under those conditions, I wonder how “amazing” it would be for you.

  • We just got back from a cruice to different places with Thomson Dream and stayed in port I Havana for two days. Ok the port was not the best port we have seen but it had its charm and this was Cuba. We enjoyed our trip to Havana it was to say amazing! Most people we spoke to chosed this cruise only because the visit to Havana. Nobody felt it important that the port wasent like so many modern port with lots af facilities to the pampered cruisers everyone of us thought it was the highlight of the whole cruice and it was indeed! We would love to visit again in the near future even after ten hours flight from Manchester Uk to Montego Bay and lots of sea days to get to Havana.

  • This is what we call a “puff piece”. Cuba is far from ready to receive American cruisers. My 80 year-old mom is a 3-times a year cruiser on the Carnival Cruise Line. Her kind of traveler is pampered beyond imagination and Cuban ports are far from pampering. Cancun, Mexico and the Mexican Riviera is tracking to receive more that 5 million tourists this year. The Dominican Republic will receive slightly more. The entire country of Cuba hopes to receive 3 million visitors for 2015. The nearby tourists destinations are so far ahead of Cuba, it will take years for Cuba to begin to offer a competitive vacation destination in terms of price and accommodations.

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