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Benefits from home-porting

Cruise tourism in the Caribbean

Benefits from home-porting – a success story from Barbados

The cruise industry has grown from a United States/Caribbean cottage industry into a global industry spanning the seven seas. This growth continued in 2012 with innovative, feature-rich ships, international ports of call and convenient departures from proximal embarkation cities becoming fundamental tenets of the new industry.

The current order book for cruise ships extending through 2015 includes 26 newbuilds (17 oceangoing vessels and nine European and American cruise riverboats) with 45,600 berths and a value of nearly US$ 12 billion.

The decline of transoceanic travel in the 1950s; the introduction of non-stop air travel between the USA and Europe by Pan American Airlines in 1958; and the overcapacity of transatlantic ocean liners, gave birth to the modern cruise tourism industry. Since its introduction, the image of cruising and cruise ships has not changed. However, the industry shifted to a multi-billion-dollar mass market business with the Caribbean as its largest destination.


There has also been a significant shift in clientele, size of ship and the unbundling of services provided on board. The size of cruise ships has increased significantly, as has the luxury of land-based resorts. However, cruising offers the option of multiple destinations. Caribbean inbound cruise arrivals now account for more than half of all visitors to the Region and their numbers are growing at an annual rate twice that of land-based tourism.

Positive impact

There can be no denying the positive impact of cruise travel for both passengers and Caribbean inhabitants. The business of receiving ships and people injects millions of dollars into Caribbean national economies in the form of wages and purchases. As a result, cruise travel is now the largest sector of the Caribbean tourism industry.

The cruise industry in the Caribbean has been impacted recently by three significant developments:

(1) Introduction of private islands

This has become a unique feature of the Caribbean, offering more itinerary options to cruise lines. Private islands in the Caribbean are shown in the table (top right)

It is not uncommon for private islands and days at sea to account for up to 60 per cent of stops on a Caribbean cruise itinerary. This has shifted the nucleus from the Caribbean destinations to the ship as the primary object of the cruise. The cruise lines benefit from this, because all the revenues derived from private island calls go directly to their bottom line.


This brings into question the validity of some statistics, specifically: the number of persons visiting the Caribbean. These numbers should not be taken as absolute as they are calculated from the ship’s manifest at the port of call. With 4,000 passengers leaving from Miami base home port, stopping at two private islands and two Caribbean destinations, it would be reported that 20,000 passengers visited the Caribbean. The question for statisticians is: are private islands a part of the Caribbean? Could the numbers be viewed as double counting?

Some observers have pointed out that private islands are a major driver in cruise ships becoming ‘deterritorialised’ destinations. Apart from geography, private islands have no other similarities or connections with Caribbean countries in terms of employment, social and economic activities. 

(2) Impact of scale

The introduction of the Carnival Destiny in 1996 as the first post panamax cruise vessel changed the face of the cruise industry. Focus shifted from the cruise vessel being a mode of transport to a destination to the ship itself becoming a destination, supplemented by ports of call. This era signalled the shift of value and net earning from the Caribbean to the ship.

(3) Home port

The move of the home port away from the Caribbean and the traditional flight-to home port to the drive-to home port in the USA eliminated the need for air travel. Since the attack on New York’s World Trade Centre, home ports used by the major cruise lines have nearly doubled. The increase has opened the door to some intriguing travel options.

New York City has completely taken off after many years playing second fiddle to the major Florida cruise ports. Today, you can sail to the Bahamas in the dead of winter, or cruise to Bermuda, the Caribbean and New England/Canada at different times of the year. Seattle also grew from almost nothing to taking nearly half the Alaska-bound trade away from nearby Vancouver. Meanwhile, ships have been sailing out of Baltimore, Norfolk, Houston, San Diego and even Bayonne, New Jersey.

Home-porting and Barbados success story

Caribbean countries benefit from home-porting. It generates more airlifts in and out of Caribbean destinations; brings additional business for local services like hotels, bunkering, fresh water provisioning, garbage disposal and sludge removal. It also creates the potential for pre- and post-cruise extension visits.

Since 2000 more than a fifth of cruise ship calls to Barbados represent a home-porting vessel. The ratio of home-porting cruise ship calls to total cruise ship calls over the period 2000 to 2011 ranges from a low of 21.51 per cent in 2004 to a high of 37.33 per cent in 2006. These statistics are unrivalled by any other Caribbean port including Puerto Rico and the Bahamas.

Unquestionably, home-porting is a significant feature of the Barbados cruise industry. Interestingly, major world events in the period under review such as the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001 and the global recession in 2008 showed no impact on the home-porting share of total cruise ship calls. Most of the cruise brands using Barbados’s home port facility are based in the UK and Europe.


The above tables highlight the ratio of home-porting ships to total vessel calls in Barbados between 2000 and 2011. In 2000, of the 70 cruise ship vessels calling Barbados ports, 18.57 per cent home-ported in Barbados. In 2006, of the 71 cruise calls, 22 or just under 31 per cent were home-port. Similarly, of the 442 vessel calls to the island, 165 or 37.33 per cent were home-port. The above table gives a one-year picture of home port calls in relation to total cruise calls. For 2010 there were 129 home port calls out of 414 cruise calls representing 31.16 per cent of total calls. Total passenger arrivals by home port vessels total was 127,314 cruise passengers as against 745,175 or 17.09 per cent of total passenger arrivals. Of the 118,266 passengers disembarked and 119,931 passengers embarked, 89.42 per cent and 89.2 per cent represented home port disembarkation and embarkation respectively. 

Despite the high numbers recorded for passenger arrivals reported by St. Maarten, the Cayman Islands and Jamaica, the home port percentages are less than two per cent, confirming Barbados as the leader in the Caribbean. Plans by Barbados Port Inc. to build a world-class cruise facility with specialised home-porting infrastructure will only strengthen Barbados as one of the highest earners from cruise tourism in the Caribbean.