The decision by cruise ship giant Royal Caribbean to cancel some 90 visits to Puerto Rico during the 2020-2021 season drew a flurry of reactions from public and private sector industry representatives.
While private sector groups urged Gov. Wanda Vázquez and government agencies to pull together to prevent the reduction in cruise ship visits, the public sector said it will push forward on the public-private partnership planned for the docks in San Juan — which has allegedly been the reason for Royal Caribbean’s decision.
Word of the company’s decision began circulating after Popular Democratic Party Rep. Ángel Matos, who represents the minority party in the House Tourism Committee denounced the cancellations.
“Unfortunately, since last Friday we have begun to confirm the cancellation of dozens of cruise ships visits and departures from Puerto Rico, affecting thousands of direct and indirect jobs throughout the island,” he said.
The cancellation list is headed by Royal Caribbean, which has nixed about 90 visits, representing some 360,000 fewer visitors and an impact of about $44 million to Puerto Rico’s economy. He said an additional 30 home porting departures are also being slashed during the 2020-2021 season.
One of the ships affected during the seasons will be the Freedom of the Seas, which departs San Juan on Sundays. Royal Caribbean put out a statement confirming that the ship would resume its itinerary in the winter of 2021-2022, along with the Empress of the Seas.
The Allure of the Seas and the Symphony of the Seas will also skip Puerto Rico, steering a combined 12,000 passengers away next year, Matos said, warning of the possibility that other companies like Carnival will follow suit.
“All this is mainly due to the P3 through which the government proposes to privatize operations at the docks of San Juan and Ponce, knowing the opposition from the shipping industry and still insists on moving forward on it,” Matos said.
In a joint statement, Fermin Fontanés, executive director of the P3 Authority, José Roa, interim executive director of the Ports Authority, and Tourism Co. Executive Director Carla Campos defended the P3 planned for the docks.
“The Government of Puerto Rico, through the P3 Authority has carried out a transparent and comprehensive process in the evaluation of the future concession for cruise ship docks in the Bay of San Juan,” Fontanés said.
“The goal has been to advance the best interests of the people of Puerto Rico, get a multi-million dollar investment to repair, improve and expand cruise ship docks and terminals, improve the operations and experience of the tourists that come to our terminals, and continue to expand Puerto Rico’s tourism economy,“ he said, adding the P3 process has not been completed.
“As informed to the local media, we anticipate that the process of awarding the contract concludes on or before the end of the year 2019, year on which the selected proponent would be announced,” Fontanés said.
Meanwhile, Roa acknowledge that Ports received word about Royal Caribbean’s intention to cancel some of the trips effective July 2020, and the agency will “investigate the reason for the cancellations.”
The announcement comes on the heels of the Florida and Caribbean Cruise Association’s annual convention, held in Puerto Rico last month. The Tourism Co. participated in a number of meetings with the cruise lines, where it was accompanied by Ports and P3 Authority officials to answer questions.
“Performance indicators show that Puerto Rico continues to be an important and profitable cruise destination. The government seeks to expand our offerings and further improve our attractiveness as a destination, for the benefit of Puerto Rico and all industry participants, including cruise lines,” Campos said.
Gov. Wanda Vázquez said to be “surprised by this notification without any reason, and with a valid contract.”
PRHTA warns of ‘domino effect’
The Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association said the cancelations represent “a great loss” for tourism.
“The cancellations of these cruise trips mean a great loss for tourism in Puerto Rico, we believe the necessary adjustments have to be made for improvements to both the aesthetic and infrastructure of the docks, but we strongly ask all parties, cruise lines and government representatives, to have a dialogue where they can reach the necessary agreements for the benefit of all, businesses, tourism and all of Puerto Rico’s economic development,” said PRHTA Chairman Pablo Torres.
“It is unfortunate that an essential part of our tourism component that has held up in recent years is affected, after representing a great injection into our economy,” he said.
The cruise ship cancellations could have a domino effect on the island’s economy, ranging from a reduction in flights that will no longer be filled by passengers coming to San Juan to board their ships, he said, adding that transportation companies, tour operators, tour guides, and restaurants will also feel the impact.