Carnival upbeat about its Cuban and Dominican cruise business.
BY JOACHIM BAMRUD
US-based Carnival Cruise Lines, the world’s largest cruise company, in May started sailing to Cuba -- the first cruise from the US to that Caribbean nation in more than 50 years. Meanwhile, last fall it opened an $85 million cruise port on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, which will significantly boost cruise arrivals in that country. Latinvex talked to Giora Israel, Carnival’s Senior Vice President for Global Port and Destination Development, about the company's outlook in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean.
Latinvex: How do you view the outlook for your Cuba business?
Israel: We’re honored and privileged to have made history when our new Fathom brand was the first cruise line in more than 40 years to sail from the U.S. to Cuba. This is important, because Cuba provides something new and unique and beautiful for travelers in the Caribbean. It’s the largest island in the most important region, and many people from the U.S. have never had a chance to visit it before today.
We are seeing significant demand in the U.S. from travelers who want to visit Cuba and our bookings remain very strong this year, so considering our Fathom brand is still the only cruise company sailing to Cuba, we are encouraging anyone who is interested to book as soon as they can. To meet demand, we recently added two more Cuba sailing dates for fall 2016 as well as three new shore excursions, including visits to Ernest Hemingway’s home and to the Cuban countryside, so now is a great time to go see Cuba.
I had the opportunity to sail to Cuba this year and see first-hand the incredible reception our guests are receiving from the Cuban people. It’s an amazing experience for everyone who goes and something I’ll never forget personally. I can say there really is no better way to see firsthand so much of Cuba in seven days, including visits to Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba, and a completely new experience to try right here in the Caribbean.
We also see great potential for future growth in Cuba and have already begun the process for approval for our other brands to sail to the island in years ahead, which will eventually provide new opportunities for refreshed itineraries in the Caribbean. Overall, Cuba represents an exciting opportunity for our guests and we have felt privileged to be the first to sail there in more than four decades.
Latinvex: Are Cuba's port facilities adequate or do they need refurbishing?
Israel: We are looking forward to working with the Cuban government to help further develop the cruise industry as we move forward. Clearly, with the pent-up demand, there is tremendous growth potential for cruising in Cuba, and a great opportunity for our guests and brands to be able to visit such a fascinating destination. We are really pleased to be a part of this process as the Cuban government decides how best to grow their tourism industry.
In terms of infrastructure, the Havana harbor can provide passage for cruise ships of all sizes, including newer and larger cruise ships. The current cruise infrastructure can handle two ships a day, but there are several berth options in the port that could become available for use by cruise ships should the Cuban government decide to do so.
Latinvex: How do you view the outlook for your Caribbean business in general?
Israel: The Caribbean is the most popular cruise market in the world, accounting for about one-third of the world’s cruise line deployment for 2016, according to the Cruise Line Industry Association (CLIA). At Carnival Corporation, the Caribbean is an extremely important destination for many of our guests who go on vacation with one of our global cruise brands, which has made it our strongest region in the world and a continued strategic priority for our company. And, of course, with our headquarters in Miami, the Caribbean is right in our backyard, and we consider the entire region to be part of our home base.
Nine of our ten global brands operate in the Caribbean, and our deployment in the region originates from 11 different U.S. homeports. Additionally, we have seven homeports in the region, serving all of our North American brands and three of our European brands.
Considering the Caribbean is so important to our guests and our business, we not only make it a priority for our operations today, but continue to innovate to offer new experiences and the best possible vacations for our guests across the region. For people who have never been on a cruise, we consistently work to deliver new offerings and destinations to entice them to come sail with us in the Caribbean. For the more than 60 percent of cruisers who are repeat passengers, it is important to offer unique choices over time to make sure these guests can come back to the Caribbean over and over, and still have fresh and engaging experiences while on vacation.
A good example of that is our new port, Amber Cove, just recently opened in the Dominican Republic. This beautiful new port gives our guests an exciting new destination to visit in the Caribbean, providing a gateway to the Puerto Plata region on the Dominican’s north coast, known as the “Amber Coast.” Amber Cove is extremely popular with guests and helps our brands sailing in the Caribbean to offer more diversity in their itineraries.
Latinvex: Why did you decide to the build Amber Cove cruise center in the Dominican Republic?
Israel: Amber Cove is a major development we’re really proud of, and represents our largest direct port investment ever made in the Caribbean, $85 million. Amber Cove has the capacity to welcome our largest cruise ships today, while opening up the beautiful Amber Coast to cruise ship visitors consistently for the first time in 30 years. As I’ve said, Amber Cove gives our brands the exclusive chance to deliver new and engaging itineraries now and in the future for our guests by opening up access to a destination that has not been regularly visited in decades.
Port developments are major projects for us, sometimes a decade or more in the making. With the Caribbean being the most popular region in the world for cruise vacations, Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic -- along with our Grand Turk Cruise Center in Turks and Caicos and our other port developments like Mahogany Bay in Roatan, Puerta Maya in Cozumel -- serve as great bases for Caribbean itineraries.
Latinvex: To what degree will Amber Cove impact your business in the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean?
Israel: Amber Cove has been extremely popular with our guests, and the new facility hosted approximately 285,000 passengers in its first year. Amber Cove opens up a beautiful area of the Dominican Republic to cruise visitors, which is a positive for our guests and at least six of our brands that call on the port, while also having tremendous impacts locally for the community. In fact, Amber Cove has served as the first destination for our social impact brand, Fathom, which has pioneered a new category of travel and is already having positively impacting this region of the Dominican. The port allowed us to offer new and exciting central Caribbean itineraries that together with our other developments in the region like Grand Turk and Half Moon Cay help to create itineraries that only our brands can offer to our customers.
Amber Cove is off to a very strong start and we couldn’t be happier with the port’s outlook moving forward. Having a new beautiful destination like Amber Cove in the Caribbean, combined with the flexibility and new options we have for our itineraries in the region, will continue to pay dividends for years to come.
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