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Eastern Caribbean Cruise

More than 2,300 cruise ship calls this Winter

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By Nathan Dundas

According to the latest cruise data from the 2012 Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA)/Business Research and Economic Advisors (BREA) Report, the Caribbean is still the number one cruise ship destination in the world despite the emerging global market.

The Eastern Caribbean winter itinerary is one of the most popular Caribbean cruise offers for many visitors the world over. It has to be the intention of cruise business stakeholders and the governments of the Eastern Caribbean to maintain this position.

The summer season is finally receding and cruise tourism stakeholders in the Eastern Caribbean are really gearing up and now looking for the anxiously awaited winter season. The 2013 summer season was a mixed bag for Eastern Caribbean cruise stakeholders. There was the traditional slow period, with few ships positioned in the Caribbean from May through to September. 

For the past few years the Eastern Caribbean, except for St Maarten, has only been able to attract few cruise ships during the summer months. It was the same this summer except for August with the welcome return to some destinations of the Royal Caribbean Cruise ship Jewel of the Seas.

Foreign Exchange

Taxi drivers, store owners, tour operators and the national economies of the main cruise destinations have held their own because of the infusion of foreign exchange from the visitors of the cruise lines. Tours have been organised to take visitors to attractions and to local beaches. Catamarans have been brought into play and have been a success with visitors.

In October we would have started to receive some of the cruise ships returning from summer duties in the Mediterranean and Europe and Asia. St. Maarten will lead the Eastern Caribbean with 23 calls, followed by Barbados with 12 calls. St Lucia will receive 11 calls, St Kitts nine and Antigua eight. Dominica will receive three cruise ship visits; and, St. Vincent and Grenada, one call each.

The 2013/2014 Caribbean cruise season will really start to pick up from November onwards with St. Maarten leading the group with 74 arrivals. And December is going to be an even more active month with about 457 vessel calls to the Eastern Caribbean. The season will peak in January of 2014 with approximately 494 vessel calls. 

In February there will be a decline in the number of vessel calls to the Eastern Caribbean, about 409 cruise ships during the month, as some cruise Lines start itineraries to other ports of call. March is the last month of significant traffic the upcoming winter cruise season and in April cruise ships will start to make their way back to the Mediterranean and Europe. 

Overall the Eastern Caribbean will get about 2,380 cruise ship calls this winter season. This is a very good number of calls. Opportunities are certainly being created for potential business for the stakeholders.

Royal Caribbean International (RCI) and Carnival Cruise Line continue as the dominant USA-based cruise lines operating in the Eastern Caribbean region. St. Maarten receives most of its cruise ships from RCI and Carnival with RCI in conjunction with Celebrity making approximately 180 calls to that destination.

The other USA-based cruise lines (including Princess, Norwegian and Holland America/Seaborne) also continue to focus on the region.

European cruise lines that have a presence include Costa Cruises, MSC Cruises, P&O, Aida and TUI Cruises.

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

The fact is that some in the Eastern Caribbean are missing out on opportunities. Some of the larger cruise ships are presently not calling there and we could miss out on other larger ships that will be placed in our market area from 2015 unless we carry out adequate dredging and maintenances on harbours. That is the simple truth.

The cruise market is global and some of the USA-based cruise lines will be placing a number of their smaller ships, many of which presently call at ports in the Caribbean, to other destinations; replacing them with larger, new builds. If the Caribbean is not ready and prepared, it will be bypassed and there will be a reduction in vessel calls.

Some ports have already started making preparations and some need to carefully consider the joint investment opportunities with the cruise lines in developing infrastructure. This has already taken place in St. Maarten and Jamaica.

There is a commendable effort by cruise destinations to market the Eastern Caribbean to cruise lines and to cruise travellers around the world. Some destinations continue to hold meetings with the FCCA and various cruise lines under the stewardship of their various government ministers to good effect. The interest and following from some countries in hosting the FCCA-sponsored Aquila Excellence training programme to further equip and benefit stakeholders is also of worthy of note.

Marketing efforts this year took representatives of Eastern Caribbean destinations to Hamburg, Germany, to attend the Seatrade Europe Cruise convention in September, where they met with the European cruise line representatives to discuss continued support of the Caribbean. This was followed up in October with further meetings with the USA-based cruise lines, at the annual Florida Caribbean Cruise Association trade show and meetings in Cartagena, Colombia. 

Nathan Dundas is President of Antigua & Barbuda Cruise Tourism Association & Chairman of the Caribbean Shipping Association Cruise Committee.