By Doreen Hemlock
Special to News is my Business
MIAMI BEACH – Puerto Rico is aiming to boost its cruise business with an aggressive pitch this week at the world’s biggest cruise industry convention, Cruise Shipping Miami.
Executives are meeting with cruise lines to tout the island’s ample offerings, including new government incentives and new private tours that feature such experiences as making mofongo in Old San Juan.
Puerto Rico’s cruise business dropped by one-third to 1 million passengers in fiscal 2013 from a peak of 1.5 million five years earlier for a mix of reasons: Recession, the exit of American Eagle air service, problems at ports, limited government incentives. And a shift by some ships to Europe for summer, said Ingrid Rivera, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company.
But now, business is recovering. The government projects 142,000 more cruise passengers this fiscal year and another 220,000 next year to reach 1.4 million passengers in fiscal 2015, nearing the former peak, Rivera said. Some of that gain is linked to ships shifting back from Europe for summer.
Officials also are offering more perks. The Tourism Company will pay cruise lines an incentive when they meet any of four criteria aimed to boost business beyond port areas:
- If they home-port in Puerto Rico and leave to sea earlier, so that passengers arrive the night before and thereby, help local hotels.
- If the ships stopping in Puerto Rico stay longer in port, so that passengers can travel farther inland.
- If they call in two Puerto Rico ports in one trip, boosting business in different parts of the island; and
- If they call twice in one week in Puerto Rico, so that their three- and four-day cruises gives visitors more time to stay before and after their trips.
“This is the incentive package we presented to the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association at their conference in Cartagena in October, and we’re following up here,” Rivera said at the Miami Beach Convention Center.
Puerto Rico faces stiff competition in the Caribbean, the world’s most popular destination for cruises. St. Maarten is adding attractions and debuted a new port. And the Dominican Republic is poised for growth, now that Carnival Corp. is financing a $65 million port in Puerto Plata, she said.
Cruise lines increasingly want fresh tour options too, so that repeat passengers have new choices.
That’s why Rico Sun Tours of San Juan, which works with Disney and Norwegian lines since 2012, now offers tours to Caguas to see its botanical gardens and small museums. And it plans a tour to Loíza to visit a local artisan and teach visitors to dance bomba, said business manager Sasha Rodriguez.
Travel Services of San Juan, which works with such luxury cruise lines as Regent and Oceania, offers private tours with docents at the Museum of Art of Puerto Rico, plus guided walking tours in Old San Juan that let visitors make their own mofongo and such drinks as coquito, said group services manager Mona Lisa Torres.
Puerto Rico has been participating in Cruise Miami Shipping for years, as have private tour operators. Said Torres: “People in this business communicate a lot by email, and we don’t get a chance to see each other. This gives me a chance to talk face-to-face.”
Some 14,000 people, including about 900 exhibitors from nearly 130 nations, are expected to take part in Cruise Shipping Miami this week. To stand out from the crowd, Puerto Rico’s booth offered rum tastings, plus a band playing salsa and other tunes, accompanied by a couple of professional dancers.