The playing field, however, is cramped and competitive – with lots of ships on similar routes, leaving from the same homeports and demanding more and more from the islands, thus, most importantly, keeping port prices down.
2015 will see business get even more dramatic as the Emissions Control Area for North America will force deployment changes.
Perhaps one port executive said it best: “Our competition is profitability.”
While cruise lines have made headlines putting ships in new markets, and talk about Asia again and again – the fact remains that almost all new tonnage is sailing in the Caribbean in the winter because that is where the cruise market remains.
The reasons are simple, the Caribbean ports have been in the cruise business a long time and know how to handle a call, and the infrastructure is there to handle the ships.
Airlift into Florida can be described as better than excellent for homeporting, and the governments on the islands are stable compared to the rest of the world.
Also consistent: sun and the beaches.
For a high-yield summer season in Europe cruise ships are leaving earlier to cross the Atlantic, and coming back later. This truncates the season, leaving some islands coping with four or five megaships on one day of the week. It also strains the local tour infrastructure, whom have built up for the winter but are left with little to do in the summer.
The Caribbean region must work together as one destination to attract cruise business year-round.
“We must show the region can be enjoyed as much in the summer as in the winter,” noted Karine Roy-Camille, commissioner of tourism for Martinique.
The Martinique government has made tourism a top priority, including forming a cruise committee that is responsible for improving the product.
Future success will come down to innovation, creativity, and unfailing product delivery, said Roy-Camille, along with “overcoming seasonality and attracting cruise ships during the summer is a big priority. We are working with our neighboring Southern Caribbean islands to propose summer incentives to the cruise lines.”
At press time, the Port Authority of Jamaica was taking berth bookings well into 2015, with plans to significantly upgrade Ocho Rios, according to William Tatham, vice president of shipping and marina operations.
“We have watched our market share decline in the Caribbean,” Tatham continued. “We need to be well organized to protect our regional interests. The next clear step is to create a regional marketing body.”
As far as the island’s direction in the cruise industry, Tatham said he was very optimistic.
“We have put in the infrastructure and are reaping the benefits. We made the decision on Falmouth in the middle of the financial crisis and a lot of people thought we were crazy. We realized it was a do-or-die situation, it was a long-term commitment to the cruise industry.”
Facing adversity in the Southern Caribbean, Aruba is looking toward a 189 percent increase in low season traffic for 2013.
“It’s due to a more aggressive approach of us handling the cruise business,” said Ronella Tjin Asjoe-Croes, CEO of the Aruba Tourism Authority. “We are working with the cruise lines, we present them with a business case that makes sense.”
Added Anja Romeijnders, president of the Tourism Corporation of Bonaire” “We have been listening very carefully to what the cruise lines tell us and the feedback we are getting. We are working to diversify our product. We are offering different types of tours, catering to various age categories and ships.
“We need to maintain what we have started in respect to improving the product,” she noted. “We need to make all cruise passengers feel welcome. Those meetings involve the tourism corporation, tour providers, harbor master, police, taxi organization, cruise organization and more.”
New ships from Costa and AIDA, along with homeporting from the Italian brand and interporting by Royal Caribbean International and MSC have given Guadeloupe a strong outlook for 2013/2014, with more than 350,000 passengers expected.
“We went from 145,000 passengers in 2011/2012 to 250,000 this past season, and we are expecting more next year,” said Olivier Michel, director of cruise.
“If cruise lines send more ships to the Caribbean they may call in Guadeloupe,” he explained. “But, if they send tonnage to Europe or Asia, those ships will never call here.”
>> Also in this section: Cruise Industry News talks to the leading islands.