The cruise industry has a ubiquitous presence in the Caribbean as the region continues to lead the world in passenger traffic. But beyond the region’s overall popularity and its proximity to the source markets, particularly in North America, the Caribbean’s success is the result of strategic marketing endeavours undertaken in conjunction with the cruise sector and the region’s policymakers.
Spurred by the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), the region’s tourism development agency, the Caribbean has made a concerted effort to enhance the facilities and passenger experience in support of cruise tourism.
With cruise passenger arrivals exceeding expectations by an impressive 4.5% increase in the first quarter of 2017 compared to the same period last year, the strategy seems to be paying off. Now, encouraged by commitments for new developments by major cruise lines and a ground-breaking regional alliance, the Caribbean is doubling down on its promotional efforts.
Supported by CTO, the Cruise Alliance of the Southern Caribbean provides a framework for cooperation among destinations in that sub-region, aiming to further enhance the experience and increase returns for the benefit of the people. The shared challenge of seasonality in cruise tourism will be addressed by offering incentives to cruise lines to position a greater number of ships throughout the Southern and Eastern Caribbean, particularly during the slower summer period.
Participant countries include Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Barbados, Bonaire, CuraÇao, Dominica, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & The Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago. The initiative is designed to drive long-term growth and sustainability by positioning the sub-regions as year-round cruise destinations and encouraging investment in infrastructure development.
Initiatives such as this demonstrate the region’s commitment to, and support for, the cruise sector, and in turn, encourage cruise lines to invest in the Caribbean.
Most recently, Carnival Cruise Line and the Bahamian government signed an agreement for the construction of a new cruise port facility on Grand Bahama Island. It will be the largest purpose-built cruise facility ever constructed in The Bahamas. The move follows the recent opening of Carnival’s Amber Cove port in the Dominican Republic, a project for which the cruise line invested US$85 million.
Carnival’s upcoming launch of wearable Ocean Medallions is anticipated to be another boon for Caribbean cruising. Equipped with technology that facilitates personalised onboard service and amenities, the Ocean Medallions replace the previous key card, enabling the crew to track passengers and deliver services directly to guests. The system will debut onboard Princess Cruises’ Regal Princess in November 2017.
Elsewhere, MSC Cruises broke ground on its Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve south of Bimini in The Bahamas earlier this year. The development is part of a US$10.2 billion investment plan, which includes the line building up to 11 next-generation smart ships, some of which will come into service as early as this year.
Meanwhile, Norwegian Cruise Line’s premier resort-style experience at Harvest Caye in Belize debuted this spring, further demonstrating an upward trend for privately-owned cruise destinations throughout the Caribbean.
“Cruise lines are aggressively pursuing these private island experiences in an effort to compete with one another as each one ups its game,” says Dionisio D’Aguilar, CTO chairman and The Bahamas Minister of Tourism. “The Caribbean has been a major beneficiary as our destinations are geographically well suited for these developments. These island experiences enhance the Caribbean’s image among cruise enthusiasts and complement the appeal of itineraries such as the Caribbean Rum Route to further drive growth in this sector.”
The Caribbean Rum Route is CTO’s regional flagship initiative designed to encapsulate the cultural and historical significance of rum in the Caribbean. A by-product of sugar production, birthed from the region’s colonial past, rum continues to be an integral part of Caribbean life, culture and economic activity.
Hugh Riley, the CTO’s secretary general, says: “The project aims to integrate various activities and attractions related to rum as a key ingredient in the Caribbean tourism experience, capitalising on the region’s rich historical etymology and cultural heritage, while promoting contemporary lifestyles and local traditions.”
Engaging both public and private tourism industry stakeholders, the Caribbean Rum Route is expected to highlight the diverse gastronomic offerings spread across the regional tapestry, generating new culturally rich niche products related to culinary tourism, agro-tourism, and rural and community-based tourism. In addition to serving as a catalyst for increased cruise passenger arrivals, the initiative is being praised by the Caribbean’s rum sector, which is a top export and a vital income earner for many of the region’s economies.
The Caribbean Rum Route is also expected to facilitate increased businesses for rum producers, while diversifying the regional tourism product, offering new attractions, adding value for guests, and creating opportunities to interact with local communities. This initiative is critical to CTO’s mandate to support regional tourism development, allowing it to meet the demands of today’s travellers for authentic and memorable experiences by creating enriching participatory engagements with host communities.
The Rum Route project is a creative move by the CTO, whose purpose is ‘Leading Sustainable Tourism: One Sea, One Voice, One Caribbean’. Together with the new alliance, this will not only enhance the product and experience, but also ensure the Caribbean region remains at the forefront of the cruise industry.