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Storm hit Caribbean ports seen to be back in business in few weeks - Goldstein

Only four destinations in the Caribbean have been badly damaged in the hurricanes of last month and the best way people can help them to recover is to go on a cruise to the region, said senior cruise industry executives at a conference call titled “Caribbean Is Open To Business” on 16 October.

This will also be the title of a campaign, to be launched next week, to tackle conceptions that the entire region has been badly devastated and that booking a cruise there should therefore have to wait – unless a rock bottom discount price was on offer.

“Only four ports have been badly affected,” said Adam Goldstein, Chairman of the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) and President COO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd (RCCL). These are St Croix, St Thomas, St Marten and San Juan. All are expected to return to business by the end of November. Some other ports, too, have been hit, but there the damage has not been less significant, Goldstein added.

 Cruise lines will return to the affected ports as soon as they open for the trade and as soon as at least the shore excursion that are most in demand can be operated normally. “All destinations will be up and running in the next few weeks,” said Arnold Donald, Chairman of CLIA and CEO of Carnival Corporation & plc. The Caribbean covers a region of more than one million square miles and it has hundreds of destinations on offer, he pointed out.

Each cruise calls injects about $500,000 to the economy of the destination, said Michele Page, President of FCCA, so the industry plays a vital role in the economic development of the region. “There is no better way to help the Caribbean than going to the Caribbean,” Donald pointed out.

The destinations that have been hit by the storms are working very hard to rebuild their facilities and they are also using the opportunity to improve them as rebuilding work had become necessary due to the storms. Land based resorts and hotels will probably take a lot longer to come back in business due to the time it will take them to do the same and e.g. damage to the airports is a limiting factor to the resumption of the land based tourist trade in the locations affected.

Donald said that Carnival group is currently examining the possibility to widen the offering of its Fathom experience that is available on the ships of its mass market Carnival Cruise Line unit to offer those willing to volunteer in rebuilding the affected destinations to do so. Goldstein said that the RCCL group is also looking into this, but the number one priority is to get “normal’ shore excursions up and running.

Regarding discounting, Goldstein said that it was “business as usual” for RCCL in the region, although some price incentives would be offered. Donald noted that the Carnival group had less inventory to sell for the final quarter of this year than what was the situation at this time last year regarding the final quarter of 2016.

Both executives declined to elaborate and said more information would be released at the final quarter and full year result conference calls of the respective companies. As far as bookings for 2018 in the region is concerned, both Goldstein and Donald said that these, too, would be discussed at the result conference calls in due time.

San Juan in Puerto Rico is not just a destination, but also a turnaround port. While the locals are working hard with those sent from the US mainland to restore essential services across the island, it would probably bear some scars of the storms of this autumn for years to come. “New Orleans is still recovering for (Hurricane) Katrina. That was more than 10 years ago,” Donald pointed out.

Due to the fact that many people sent from the US mainland are occupying hotels in San Juan at the moment, the availability of rooms is restricted in the capital of Puerto Rico. However, Goldstein pointed out that most passengers that board a cruise ship tend to arrive there on the morning of the departure and fly back home on the afternoon of the arrival, so the hotel situation is unlikely to affect the cruise industry much.