The sun sets over a white-sand beach, which is staged for a dinner event. At one table, a cruise line CEO clinks glasses with a port director as they celebrate a homeport deal. On the next table, a tour operator shares his new idea with a shore excursion executive and overhears a tourism minister discussing incentives to lure more cruise passengers to her country, outlining the infrastructure plan and tours that will keep them satisfied.
This is just one example of the numerous events hosted by the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA), set up to bring together some of the industry’s most influential decision makers with significant stakeholders from across Florida, the Caribbean and Latin America.
We kicked off this year with one of our most attended events yet, welcoming over 150 Platinum members aboard Carnival Victory for our annual PAMAC Cruise Summit – a busy four-day agenda of meetings and networking events to discuss key industry trends such as tourism development, ports, tour operations, safety, security, standards and more.
As well as offering a great opportunity for some of the most significant decision makers throughout the industry to network and develop productive relationships, the event proved an invaluable way for our members to see themselves in the bigger, global picture. Attendees were given invaluable information on how to elevate their position within the industry and really think about how they can serve the wider cruise industry.
The good news is that their ongoing actions are making a real difference. Year on year, the cruise industry continues to show signs of strong growth. And while the Caribbean’s dominant share of the overall market has reduced from over half to about a third in the last 20 years, what we mustn’t forget is that the sector as a whole has expanded exponentially. This year, we’re forecasting 24.2 million passenger calls in the Caribbean and Latin America.
Our most popular destinations within the region also remain strong. The Bahamas continues to enjoy strong passenger volumes thanks to its proximity to the US. And then we have the likes of Puerto Rico, which has made some impressive strides to reverse its fortunes. Just five years ago, visitor numbers there were shrinking and shrinking, but this year we’re expecting over two million FCCA Member Line passengers to visit its shores. It’s a remarkable turnaround, one that we can put down to its perseverance to build its cruise tourism offerings.
Recognising that tourism is one of their most productive economies, key stakeholders in Puerto Rico have put a lot of their resources into identifying what they need to do to attract more visitors. They’ve focused on the product, making sure they have a safe, secure environment for visiting cruise lines and passengers, and they’ve motivated their public sector to get involved. Overall they’ve shown the cruise lines that they have a firm foundation in place to meet their needs. And today they’re flourishing. It’s a great success story, a shining star in our region.
Since the FCCA was founded in 1972, we’ve prided ourselves on the benefits we bring to cruise destinations and their local economies. Something we have found invaluable in our conversations is the importance of telling the full story of each destination. Take Mexico, for example. If a cruise passenger was to visit just one of these ports and the surrounding area, they would only be seeing a very small segment of this huge country. The cruise industry spends a great deal of money promoting this destination, but it’s in all interests to show off everything it has to offer – local customs, cuisines, culture, activities. If we do it right, the mutual benefits are huge.
A recent study found that cruise tourism generated US$528.6 million in the following Mexican destinations: Cabo San Lucas, Costa Maya, Cozumel, Ensanada, Mazatlan, Progreso and Puerto Vallarta. These numbers represent direct benefits for local citizens, with US$429.8 million in passenger spending and US$41 million in crew spending going towards the purchase of goods and services. Tourism in these destinations also created 14,044 jobs paying US$88.9 million in wage income and indirect contributions (like supplies purchased by tour operators, restaurants and port authorities, as well as spending from cruise passengers who return as stay-over guests).
As we look to the future, we will continue to focus on listening to destination stakeholders and exploring all the different ways in which we can help them. In our conversations, we’re encouraging them to see the cruise sector as an ever-changing industry. This is a particularly important message for those who like to stick to the status quo. They need to recognise that passengers’ needs and tastes are constantly changing. If we’re going to encourage passengers to visit our region, we need to offer them new, exciting things to do, and new places to explore. And, ultimately, we want to give them the best possible experience so that they want to come back and see even more.