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Ports focus on Cuba cruise, cargo connections

Ports focus on Cuba cruise, cargo connections
Dave Berman, FLORIDA TODAY 11:41 p.m. EDT May 18, 2016

Seaports, shippers and cruise lines are focusing on Cuba as the next big
thing in their industries. And that was the focus of attention this week
at the Caribbean Shipping Association’s conference in Cocoa Beach.

As conference host, Port Canaveral also is focusing on something else:
Show off the port’s cargo and cruise operations for the conference’s 180
attendees, with the ultimate goal of boosting business. Representatives
of about 25 countries were represented at the conference, and more than
100 attendees toured Port Canaveral cruise and cargo facilities on Tuesday.

The start of cruise service this month from Miami to Cuba by a unit of
Carnival Corp. presents both opportunities and obstacles for the
traditional Caribbean cruise business, speakers said at the conference
Wednesday. Caribbean cruises are the focus of Port Canaveral and other
east Florida cruise ports.

Fritz Pinnock, executive director of the Caribbean Maritime Institute,
said the addition of Cuba as a cruise destination from the United States
could represent a renewal of interest in the Caribbean region for cruise

“Cuba entering the game is a positive for us,” Pinnock said. “It is a
paradigm shift.”

The 704-passenger Fathom Adonia, part of the Carnival fleet, currently
offers seven-day cruises to Cuba from Miami, with stops at three ports
— the first service of its kind from the United States since the late-1970s.

The Norwegian and Royal Caribbean cruise lines also are working to begin
service from Florida to Cuba, according to Dimitri Cloose, commercial
and marketing manager for the Curacao Ports Authority. He expects
announcement to come by the end of the year.

Cloose said such cruises currently are restricted to focus on “cultural
exchanges” and not traditional cruise tourism.

And with the high demand and relatively small ship, a cruise to Cuba
aboard the Adonia costs two to three times as much as a traditional
seven-day Caribbean cruise from Florida.

Buy Photo
Peter Richards, chief executive officer of Port Canaveral-based GT USA,
speaks at the Caribbean Shipping Association conference at the Hilton
Cocoa Beach Oceanfront Hotel. (Photo: MALCOLM DENEMARK/FLORIDA TODAY)
As it now stands, Cloose said, Cuba offers U.S. cruise passengers
multiple ports of call on a relatively quick journey, with “novel and
appealing” historic, cultural and ecotourism attractions.

But it also has disadvantages, Cloose said, including not having the
berths to handle the largest cruise ships; not being as well-developed
as a tourism destination as some other ports; having the potential for
cruise lines facing political opposition both in the United States and
Cuba for offering the cruise to Cuba; and the potential for crime,
poverty and corruption.

As restrictions loosen and cruise lines are able to offer itineraries
that combine Cuba and other Caribbean ports, Cloose said, cruise lines
could add Cuba to eastern, western and southern Caribbean itineraries.

Port Canaveral hasn’t yet had discussions with cruise lines about
service to Cuba, port Chief Executive Officer John Murray said.

“It’s a little early for that,” said Murray, who was one of the speakers
at the conference on Tuesday.

The overall number of passengers taking Caribbean cruises continues to
increase with the growth in worldwide cruise business, but the
Caribbean’s market share is “going south,” as northern Europe, the
Mediterranean, Asia and other regions gained market share, Pinnock said.

The Caribbean at one time represented 60 percent of the overall cruise
market. But that figure has dropped to 37.2 percent, Pinnock said,

“As a region, we have to raise our game,” Pinnock said, moving beyond
“sun, sand, sea and sex” as the primary draws.

The cliche image of palm trees and white-sand beaches could be anywhere,
Pinnock said.

The Caribbean has 28 cruise port destinations, Pinnock said, but 10 of
them are cruise line “private islands.”

“The Caribbean has become a faceless place,” Pinnock said.

Cloose suggested coordinated marketing of the Caribbean as a region,
rather than each country focusing only on its own ports.

“Most of the time,” Cloose said. “destinations try to compete with each
other, rather than working together.”

Murray said he expects the cruise business at Port Canaveral — which is
seeking to leap over the Port of Miami as the world’s busiest cruise
port — to continue to grow.

“We’re a great gateway to the Caribbean,” Murray said.

Among their other observations on the cruise business from the conference:

• Why the Asian business grows: Cloose said cruise lines are basing
some of the newer, larger ships in Asia because profits from cruise ship
casinos and on-board merchandise sales can be two to three times as much
as on Caribbean-based cruises.

• Impact of world unrest: Pinnock said he expects the Caribbean cruise
market to be more immune to world political unrest than some other
cruise markets, including Europe, because the Caribbean is perceived as
“the safest destination.”

He said cruise lines “can turn on a dime” in moving ships from one home
port to another when they perceive a downturn in business because of
safety concerns.

“Disruption is a factor,” Pinnock said. “It just takes something to
flare, and the coin flips.”

Contact Berman at 321-242-3649 or Follow him
on Twitter @ByDaveBerman and on Facebook at

Source: Ports focus on Cuba cruise, cargo connections –

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