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Cruise line executives talk Caribbean, Cuba
03/18/2015 2:52 PM 03/18/2015 6:13 PM

The Caribbean will remain a key market for the cruise industry,
executives said Wednesday, but islands must find fresh ways to stand out
and compete as new destinations emerge.

Top leaders of Carnival Cruise Line, MSC Cruises USA, Royal Caribbean
International and Norwegian Cruise Line discussed the future of the
Caribbean and how the region is evolving during a panel talk at the
Cruise Shipping Miami conference in Miami Beach.

Michael Bayley, president and CEO of Miami-based Royal Caribbean
International, said the region “was, is and will always be the most
important destination, certainly for the North American market.” But he
acknowledged that industry growth is concentrated in other regions,
including Asia.

“It’s a highly competitive world and the Caribbean has to always
reinvent itself and it has to think about not only today and tomorrow,
but what’s going to happen in the future,” Bayley said. “The question
is, Does the Caribbean have the right brand relevance, not only as a
geographic region but for each product within the region?”

Cruise lines could do more to promote ports of call, especially as new
ships stir up interest, Norwegian Cruise Line president and chief
operating officer Andy Stuart said.

“Together we can do a better job in talking about the excitement of the
destination,” Stuart said. “You can help us. We will do it — and we’ll
spend a lot of money doing it — if you give us the ammunition.”

Some of the cruise operators described their own efforts to create fresh
reasons for passengers to visit familiar destinations. Doral-based
Carnival Corp. is developing an $85 million port facility in the
Dominican Republic, Amber Cove, that will open to ships in October.

And Miami-based Norwegian is developing Harvest Caye in Belize, which
will be open for ship visits in early 2016. Currently, passengers have
to take smaller vessels called tenders from ships anchored offshore when
visiting Belize.

“We looked at the opportunity to develop a new arrivals experience in
Belize,” Stuart said. “It’s going to be a fantastic destination, but
it’s not instead of Belize. It’s a way to experience Belize.”

Rick Sasso, president of MSC Cruises USA, pointed out the benefit of
such projects to a crowd that included representatives from Caribbean

“You’re not going to have a cruise line do a $70 million project in one
port and then move all their ships to China,” he said. “These kind of
investments are good for everybody.”

None of the executives were ready to discuss what kind of investments
would be required to operate in Cuba; a question from moderator Anne
Kalosh about what it would take for cruise lines to start traveling to
the island got minimal feedback.

But all four were enthusiastic about the potential for Cuba to create
new demand in the Caribbean once the U.S. embargo is lifted.

Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line, said she believes
itineraries that include stops in Cuba could help attract first-time

“I think whenever we have new and exciting innovations, whether it’s new
ships or new destinations, it really helps us drive demand, particularly
to those who are new to cruise,” she said.

Sasso said he expects that Americans will have significant interest in
traveling to a country that has been off limits — or complicated and
expensive to visit — for so many decades.

“They’re going to want to go, and they’re going to have access to do
that on a ship more comfortably, more safely, more conveniently, more
cost effectively than any other way,” he said. “They’re going to come on
the first cruise for Cuba. Then we’re going to sell then a cruise to
anywhere else that we go.”

Later Wednesday, health professionals jumped into a topic less appealing
than Caribbean beaches: public health issues. Touching on the threat of
Ebola and other concerns but focusing on norovirus, the panel discussed
steps that have already been taken and a to-do list for staying ahead of
potential outbreaks.

Donnie Brown, who oversees environmental and health issues for the
Cruise Lines International Association, said the association developed a
policy with specific measures aimed at mitigating Ebola, came up with an
enhanced questionnaire for passengers and crew and provided a sample
protocol for cruise lines as the Ebola virus spread last year.

The trade group also formed a gastrointestinal illness task force within
the last year so cruise lines can share best practices.

Mel Skipp, manager of health policy at Carnival Corp., said his company
is exploring several possibilities to prevent the spread of contagious
illness, including designing rooms to minimize contact; installing more
hands-free equipment; using anti-viral surfaces and finding strategic
places to put more hand-washing stations.

The head of the Vessel Sanitation Program at the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, Capt. Jaret T. Ames, recommended an “aggressive”
approach during the discussion.

Said Ames: “They should police those buffets and if you’re not going to
wash your hands, you’re not going to eat.”

Source: Cruise line executives talk Caribbean, Cuba | Miami Herald Miami
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