Cruise ships ready to offer trips to Cuba when US laws are relaxed, but still lots of work to do, say cruise operators at 'Cruise Shipping Miami' conv

Posted: 23-Mar-15 12:24

Thanks to the newly relaxed US regulations regarding travelling to Cuba, cruises to the island are a hoped-for option for travellers and particularly the cruise industry itself. A recent convention held in Miami Beach discussed the state of the industry, and Cuba was a lively topic of conversation.

Cruise ships ready to offer trips to Cuba when US laws are relaxed, but still lots of work to do, say cruise operators at 'Cruise Shipping Miami' conv

Executives at Cruise Shipping Miami, the industry's biggest convention, discussed the possibility of sending their cruise ships to the Caribbean island as soon as the US allows general tourism.

At present it is limited to 12 approved categories, including educational and religious activities, family visits and to participate in humanitarian projects. In a panel discussion moderated by CNN international business correspondent Richard Quest, all the company presidents from Carnival Corp, Royal Caribbean Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and MSC Cruises said that their eyes were on Cuba, calling them "astonishing opportunities".

When asked if the operators were prepared for operating in Cuba once the trade embargo is lifted, Frank del Rio, of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd (parent company of cruise lines Norwegian, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas Cruises), said:

"Once the [US] rules allow us to go legally, once the embargo is lifted, which is the main restriction... yes, we're ready."

He also added:

"And I would bet that all of us in this town are ready to move at a drop of a hat."

That statement was backed up by Holland America Line chief Orlando Ashford, who said:

"The minute the embargo is lifted, we'll be ready to go."

More muted in tone but no less enthusiastic, Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, executive VP of Royal Caribbean International (owner of the Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Pullmantur Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises and CDF Croisieres de France brands) said her company's approach to operating in Cuba might be more measured.

"We're looking at it," she said, also highlighting that the shallowness of Havana's port would be an issue, as few ships might be able to dock there. "But I don't think all the questions have been answered yet."

Arnold Donald, president and CEO of Carnival Corp and PLC (whose cruise brands include Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Seabourn) said:

"Certainly we have plans, and when the embargo is lifted, we'll be there."

He pointed out that the number of cruise passengers has increased by 5 million per year over the past six years.

A lack of infrastructure on the island also doesn't seem to pose a problem. Del Rio added:

"The cruise industry brings our own infrastructure".

Nonetheless, the panel agreed that infrastructure, and the current US economic embargo, were significant obstacles, but presented opportunities for growth on the island.

Although the enthusiasm for Cuba went across the board, Richard Fain, president of Royal Caribbean, explained that:

"... the industry still has a lot to learn [about Cuba, which was] part of the homework we will need to do".


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