The Port of Miami will offer technical, marketing and financial assistance to developing ports of call in the Caribbean, Port Director Carmen Lunetta told the delegates at Seatrade last week.

Noting that many of the existing Caribbean ports already are congested, and that the new superliners will demand better facilities, Lunetta said "the real challenge is to develop more ports of call."

He called upon the cruise lines to play a more active role in this development, an issue that arose several times during the conference.

Several cruise line executives stated that it is up to the ports to build greater consumer awareness about their destinations.

"The industry follows demand," said one executive. Another suggested that the ports lobby their governments to pass legislation that will create tax advantages that will make it attractive for businesses to cruise in their regions.

"We are in a partnership"

While recognizing their responsibility to improve their facilities, many Caribbean port officials said the projects should be joint ventures.

"You are talking about saturating our ports, and we do not have finances or expertise to properly develop them," said Senator Redfield of the Virgin Islands. "We need your assistance. St. Croix has invested $16 million for improvements but this is not nearly enough to develop the infrastructure properly."

George Noon, vice president of the Caribbean Shipping Association, said the islands are very pressed for resources.

"I feel we must all pull together," he said. "Port officials must understand the needs of cruise lines, and cruise lines must understand what each port can deliver. Cruise line officials should actively encourage and guide us in developing attractive features, rather than expect improvements and new attractions. They know best what passengers enjoy and expect. Come down and help us."

In turn, Noonan said the ports must aggressively pursue the cruise lines.

"There is no substitute for knocking on the doors of the cruise line offices in South Florida, New York and California. Advertising in glossies is desperately expensive and probably not very productive, but personal contact with a good presentation is the best way to sell your product." Noonan added that the local population must be educated regarding the significance of the tourism industry, emphasizing that it enhances rather than undermines national pride.

Noonan also warned that there is a credibility gap between the island images marketed by the cruise lines and reality.

"Cruise ship passengers are being led to expect the fantasy island, which can leave them disillusioned with the cruise experience. Ocho Rios is not Minnetonka in the Caribbean and St. Lucia is not Cannes. Cruise ship marketers should understand that their clientele are interested in new experiences, and positively exploit the cultural and social differences in our region."