The Caribbean and the cruise industry have a unique relationship. Given the importance of tourism to the economies of so many nations across the region, cruise ships will always be a vital part of the regional economy. In turn, the unique beauty and appeal of the Carribbean will ensure its waterways remain a key destination for any cruise provider.
September saw the savagery of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, causing immense damage in the region, and brought about a temporary end to regular cruise ship visits to many beloved ports. Nonetheless, the damage caused by the hurricanes was not spread evenly. The cruise industry in many nations was able to continue, as alternative ports were used while recovery works occurred.
Since then‚ many nations that sustained damage are now beginning to resume usual service. Accordingly, it’s a fitting time to take an in-depth look at the cruise industry in the Caribbean, and how events of recent months will impact its long-term future.
The Caribbean region is no stranger to hurricanes. That said‚ no matter how battle-hardened a Caribbean resident may be towards the realities of hurricanes, it’s impossible to become used to their force. Recent months showed this vividly as some of the most powerful hurricanes on record tore through the region and its surrounds.
After the impact of Irma and Maria we are beginning to see signs of strong recovery around the Caribbean. By no means is life back to normal everywhere, and neither is business. Nonetheless, it’s a reality of recovery that momentum spurs momentum, as progress on rebuilding in one field can quickly flow over into another (and free up resources along the way).
In the immediate aftermath of Irma‚ three Royal Caribbean cruisers set sail for the Caribbean‚ only this time on humanitarian voyages. The Adventure of the Seas’ journey to St Maarten on September 20 to render aid rather than provide relaxation was a leading example of corporate social responsibility.
While the damage seen this hurricane season to nations like St Maarten‚ Puerto Rico and Dominica has been substantial‚ a number of nations, like Saint Lucia, were largely undamaged. Others, like the Bahamas, sustained damaged but mainly to remote coastland or islands not visited by tourists. Then there are those, like St. Kitts and Antigua‚ who did suffer damage but have since resumed cruise operations.
While time and care must be taken in the rebuilding and recovery of host nations, the overall message from cruise providers is: the industry goes on – and must go on. This is to ensure the impact of the hurricane season’s damage does not needlessly spread, for example: visitors unable to visit closed ports but also those that remained open – victims of the mistaken perception that the hurricanes damaged them as well.
In 2015 the global cruise industry earned revenue in excess of US$39.5 billion. This came after achieving substantial growth in years prior, with strong performances in years since.
While hurricanes and other natural disasters are certainly a setback for the industry, its overall performance and global market provides a resilient climate for its ongoing growth.
Matthew Beaubrun, Chief Executive Officer of Cox & Company Tours, feels that now is a vital time to not only spread the word about the recovery under way since this season’s hurricanes but also to reinforce a message of continual operation by cruise ships as a whole.
“I think one of the important messages to get out is the Caribbean is always open for business as a cruise region. It’s crucial that tourists understand the size of the Caribbean”, says Beaubrun. “I also think, unquestionably, that one of the key things is getting the infrastructure up and running ASAP. While by no means does it solve every problem with a recovery effort, if you have an airport open and a port in operation, you are able to move and transfer tourists through. Even if parts of a city or nation are still recovering, having that accessibility can be vital.”
One of the unique appeals of the Caribbean is the accessibility of its attractions. While other regions of the world can, indeed, offer their own attractions – a cruise along Western Canada and through Alaska gives you glaciers and whales, and one through Europe gives you ancient art and culture – no other region can offer 30 distinctive nations in such close proximity.
By way of contrast, Africa’s 52 nations is close to double the Caribbean’s count but the African region is spread over 30 million square kilometers. The Caribbean is under a tenth of that size, with a total area of 2.8 million square kilometers. The size makes the region easy to travel and, given the significant mass of water, makes it a dream region for cruising. In addition, it’s not only a question of accessibility but also the attractions on offer here.
‘’There is nowhere quite like the Caribbean. It offers you a wonderful climate, a safe experience, a rich collection of history, nations and cultures. It is also close to the major market of the US and even delivers an easy seagoing journey as our waters are usually very calm and placid,’’ says Beaubrun. ‘’I’d also say we’ve an incredible history too! A mix of cultural influences from African to Spanish and German to Portuguese to British and French and more! All of those cultures have left their own legacy upon the story of the region and its people.”
The cruise industry – like all Caribbean islands, our local businesses and the tourism industry as a whole – has indeed faced a testing year due to a devastating hurricane season. A strong recovery effort has been made, and attention is slowly beginning to turn once again to future progress. It is not quite calm seas or clear skies ahead for the industry but this may soon be visible on the horizon.