Cruise Lines See a Tourism Advantage in Cuba and Hope Trump Doesn’t Ruin It

Credit: skift.com

Desmond Boylan  / Associated Press

This photo from May 2016 shows the Adonia cruise ship arriving in Havana from Miami. More ships are going this year, and executives are optimistic about the future of Cuba cruising. Desmond Boylan / Associated Press



Skift Take: Cruise lines have had plans for Cuba for years, and they're finally getting to try those out. There are two big unknowns now: Will cruise passengers be interested in the island for the long term, and will the powers in Washington make it easier or more difficult to visit?

— Hannah Sampson

Cuba is always a hot topic when cruise industry leaders get together to talk trends.


Unlike past years, the conversation these days is about what’s happening in real time, not some far-off future. A cruise ship sailed from Miami to Cuba for the first time in decades last May following the normalizing of relations between governments. This year, several more will visit — some on a regular basis.


At the annual Seatrade Cruise Global conference in Fort Lauderdale last week, executives were enthusiastic about the response so far, realistic about the challenges, and uncertain what the new U.S. administration will bring.


Here are some of the main points we heard during the conference.


Ships Have A Unique Advantage


Some airlines are already canceling or cutting back Cuba service because there is more supply than demand, but cruise lines are not running into that problem. One important factor: When a passenger books a cruise to Cuba, they already have a built-in room and don’t have to worry about limited hotel capacity.


“I find it interesting that the cruise industry is so much in the center of the discussion — the advantage the industry has,” said Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises. “Nobody’s talking about, ‘Oh, this is great for the hotel industry, this is great for the airline industry.’  But cruising offers an opportunity to visit ports of call, places that otherwise it would be a little more difficult to visit.


“Even though Cuba today is an insignificant part of any of our businesses, I think it says something. It will grow and eventually it will be significant to us, but I think it also says something about one of the great attributes of cruising is that we bring that whole infrastructure with us.”


Infrastructure and Regulations Are Still Limiting


Roberto Fusaro, president of MSC Cruises North America, has recent experience in Cuba. His European line started basing a ship there in late 2015; it did not visit the United States and catered to Canadians and Europeans. The line added a second ship there in late 2016.


While he described the island as a “perfect destination” for its cultural heritage, nature, and beaches, he said the infrastructure is challenging.


“Havana has only one pier that can accommodate smaller vessels,” he said. “It’s a real challenge to get there. The air connectivity is another challenge. The transit from the airport to the port is another challenge.”


Fusaro said sailing in Cuba has been a “learning experience” for the cruise operator — but one with a financial benefit.


“The returns are fantastic, but it’s very challenging operationally,” he said.


Camille Olivere, Norwegian Cruise Line’s senior vice president of sales, said the line only has a couple of ships in the market that would be a fit for Cuba. Norwegian is sending the 2,004-passenger Norwegian Sky on four-day trips from Miami starting in May.


“I think as the infrastructure builds, you’ll see all of us bring bigger, more exciting ships,” she said.


Carnival Cruise Line will start sailing to Havana from Tampa in June. Christine Duffy, the line’s president, said another hurdle is that going to Cuba requires a lot more from passengers. Because the U.S. embargo is still in place, Americans are still only allowed to visit Cuba for approved reasons. Most passengers go for the purpose of cultural exchange.


“A cruise that includes Cuba, there’s a lot more involved,” she said. “We have a lot of guests who don’t have passports. You’ve got to have a passport.”


Sister line Fathom, which will stop operating this spring, was the first to go to Cuba from America — which Duffy said has helped Carnival  prepare. Still, she said, the complexity of explaining Cuba requirements to passengers has been surprising.


“It’s interesting to see how many Americans really will take advantage of the opportunity to go in,” she said.


Bookings Show Pent-Up Demand


Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings president and CEO Frank Del Rio said bookings so far have been robust for Cuban sailings. All three of the company’s brands — Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, and Regent Seven Seas Cruises — received permission to call on the island.


“I think that Cuba’s going to be a home run for us,” Del Rio said.


The first five sailings from Miami and Havana on Norwegian Sky that opened for sale “have sold like nothing else we’ve seen before,” he said. Trips on Oceania and Regent sold at “meaningfully higher prices.”


“We’re not sure whether those meaningfully higher prices will be sustained as we add more,” Del Rio said. “Havana and Cuba in general have been very well received by our guests.”


When Oceania’s Marina visited the island recently, passengers bought twice as many shore excursions than they do in any other Caribbean port, he said.


“Part of that is the pent-up demand,” Del Rio said. “Also Havana has a lot to offer. It’s not a typical Caribbean port.”


Carnival’s Duffy said she is hopeful that adding Havana will draw newcomers to cruising — even if they ultimately don’t end up going to Cuba.


“All the coverage, media, has been positive overall, even for somebody that may decide ‘I’m not going to go to Cuba,'” she said. “It’s piqued their interest for cruising overall.”


No One Knows Trump’s Next Move


President Barack Obama took multiple steps to make travel between the U.S. and Cuba easier before he left office. It’s unclear whether President Donald Trump will follow the model of his predecessor or take a harder stance against the Cuban government.


If cruise executives have any sense of what Trump is thinking, they didn’t let on this week.


“Who knows what the administration is going to come up with?” asked Carnival Corp. president and CEO Arnold Donald. “I have no particular insight on that.”


He and Del Rio both said lifting the embargo would be in the best interest of Americans and Cubans.


“I’m hopeful that the Trump administration sees the value of opening up Cuba, doing business with Cuba,” said Del Rio, a Cuban native. “President Trump is a businessman before he’s a politican, and I’m certain that the Trump administration is well aware of the cruise industry’s position of what we would like to see going forward.”


At one discussion, panelists joked — a little nervously — about what the president might do.


“He hasn’t tweeted about it yet, so we don’t know,” Olivere said.


Duffy replied: “Let’s not put it on his radar.”


Top Stories

London Signs Tourism Agreement With Paris While the UK Prepares for Brexit

The timing of this announcement – in the same week that the UK formally starts the Brexit process – shows that the Mayor of London is keen to show the city is still very much willing to work with Europe. -Patrick Whyte
  • 2 days ago
  • 22

Virgin Atlantic Heading Toward Loss Thanks to Brexit and Low-Cost Competition

Looks like it could be a tough couple of years for Virgin Atlantic. Even if the Brexit vote hadn't happened the airline would have still faced a squeeze from the increased level of competition on its transatlantic routes. -Patrick Whyte
  • 2 days ago
  • 14

Carnival Expects a Strong Year Despite Tensions in Asia

Carnival Corp. is seeing strong demand and a willingness to pay more in its key markets. That's good news for the company and the industry in general, but China will warrant close attention if the dispute with Korea is not resolved quickly. -Hannah Sampson
  • 2 days ago
  • 13

Hawaii Tries a Light Touch for New Vacation Rental Regulations

We've yet to see a market where the carrot approach works better than the stick, and we're not optimistic about Hawaii’s hopes either. -Jason Clampet
  • 4 days ago
  • 9

North Korean Airline Begins New Service to China

Given the current geopolitical climate, we wonder how in demand this route will be. -Deanna Ting
  • 2 days ago
  • 9
farawayyachtingcharters - Easy Branches
botoxfillerveintheraphyinphuket - Easy Branches

Latest in Travel

Thomas Cook Abandons Practice of Separating Hotel Guest by Nationality

For most people, the idea of separating travelers based on nationality seems both old fashioned and a little odd. Forcing Brits to mingle with other nationalities (and vice versa) might do wonders for European integration. Although given the countdown to Brexit has already begun, it's probably a little late in the day. -Patrick Whyte
  • 56 minutes ago

Gourmet meals and a butler, coming soon to a theatre near you

Mixed Melanchony: Watermelon, cantaloupe, cherry tomato and black grapes tossed with balsamico chaat vinaigrette  For a lot of us, a movie without the standard popcorn and cola is unthinkable. But what if the dishes on offer were mac and cheese, burrito and tomato parmesan penne? We’d go with the latter. Curated by celebrity chef Vicky Ratnani, […] The post Gourmet meals and a butler, coming soon to a theatre near you appeared first on VOGUE India.
  • 3 hours ago

A Preview of Southwest’s New Security Checkpoint Opening Monday in Los Angeles

Anyone who has flown Southwest through Terminal 1 in Los Angeles over the last couple of years knows that it’s ... Read More
  • 3 hours ago

System Professional and Vogue India decode your hair

Vogue India’s Fashion Director, Anaita Shroff Adajania, and her sister – YouTube star, Scherezade Shroff, give us #SisterGoals in more ways than one. Recently, the duo launched System Professional’s Energycode Mapping service with Vogue India at Asilo, The St Regis, Mumbai. What’s more: they gave the service a test run and shared their childhood hair […] The post System Professional and Vogue India decode your hair appeared first on VOGUE India.
  • 4 hours ago

How to wear retro florals without looking like wallpaper

Spring/Summer 2017 was over-flowing with retro wallpaper blooms inspired by Seventies interiors – think curtains, table cloths and sun loungers. Beautiful bouquets crowded the catwalks in Chloé, Michael Kors and Prada in chestnut and turquoise hues, whilst Miu Miu radiated rainbow colours. Heat up your wardrobe this summer with Vogue’s top 10 floral picks for […] The post How to wear retro florals without looking like wallpaper appeared first on VOGUE India.
  • 4 hours ago

Our J.W. Anderson for Uniqlo wish list

As J.W. Anderson is named the latest Uniqlo collaborator – following in the footsteps of fellow catwalk labels Lemaire and Jil Sander, and fashion names including Carine Roitfeld and Inès de la Fressange – our mind has already begun to draw up a virtual shopping list. Will there be a version of his Pierce bag, […] The post Our J.W. Anderson for Uniqlo wish list appeared first on VOGUE India.
  • 5 hours ago

These celebrities will inspire you to go for that haircut

We get it, you love your long hair. There’s this emotional connect that most of us have with being able to run our fingers through our hair or playing with them aimlessly, and the idea of that going away can be a little daunting. However, not only is a fresh cut healthy for your hair, […] The post These celebrities will inspire you to go for that haircut appeared first on VOGUE India.
  • 7 hours ago

Find a summer eyeshadow palette for every budget in our edit

Besides your clothing choices, your make-up should also get an update with the changing season. Summer calls for as much of nude with hints of shimmer as it does pops of colour. These eyeshadow palettes (there’s one for every budget) allow you to create fresh spring looks across the board—whether you’re looking for a basic […] The post Find a summer eyeshadow palette for every budget in our edit appeared first on VOGUE India.
  • 8 hours ago

10 products that promise the shiniest hair of your life  

If you ever got face time with the hair gods, what would be your number one request? Longer hair? Maybe. No frizz? Yes please. Shiny hair? Yep, that would be all of us! It’s the first thing you notice in shampoo commercials and the best thing about blowouts. When it comes to gorgeous hair, shine […] The post 10 products that promise the shiniest hair of your life   appeared first on VOGUE India.
  • 8 hours ago

Alaska Air Won’t Have Flatbeds But Will Reward Frequent Flyers With Free Upgrades

Alaska's frequent flyers should love this decision. No, they won't get flatbed business class seats to New York, but they'll keep plentiful free upgrades. For most road warriors, that's a big deal. -Brian Sumers
  • 8 hours ago

The New Wave of Booking Tech That’s Disrupting How Airlines Sell Tickets

Airlines are using new channels, such as Facebook chat and other airlines' websites, to sell their seats and other products. Some are turning to startups for help, rather than rely only on establishment vendors. -Sean O'Neill
  • 8 hours ago

Oasis CEO: Expect More Consolidation, Disruption From Alternative Accommodations

Will Oasis and other alternative accommodations players' arguably steadier, slower, and more curated approaches to scale pay off in the long term? Or will the speed and scale of bigger players like Airbnb win out in the end? -Deanna Ting
  • 9 hours ago