While commending the current administration’s “follow-through” attitude toward the cruise ship industry, Michele Paige, president of the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association said Puerto Rico has a lot to gain from the trade group’s upcoming 18th annual conference happening in San Juan in October.
And Puerto Rico, it seems, is ready for the challenge.
“If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Next month, Puerto Rico will have the decision-makers from all of the cruise lines, CEOs, sitting at the same table. That will be the chance for the island’s government and private sector to take advantage of the opportunities available,” said Paige, who is on the island this week conducting an inspection of the facilities the convention, and its participants, will use Oct. 3-7.
The convention, which is expected to draw some 1,200 participants and pump about $3.4 million into the economy, is the one shot Puerto Rico has to “prove itself as an unparalleled destination in the Caribbean,” she said.
Representatives from most, if not all, of the world’s 14 major cruise lines will converge in Puerto Rico for a week of conferences, one-on-one meetings, excursions and exhibits.
“There’s a direct correlation that after a conference, which brings about first-hand knowledge and interaction, governments usually get what they ask for [from the cruise ship companies],” Paige said, mentioning the recently inaugurated Royal Caribbean cruise ship port in Maimon Bay in the Dominican Republic. “Our convention last year was in the Dominican Republic.”
Government back in industry’s good graces
Landing the conference itself marked the culmination several years of hard work to re-establish the island’s credibility as a welcoming place for cruise ship business, government officials acknowledged Monday.
For one, the government addressed legal problems it said it “inherited” with two major cruise ship lines, Royal Caribbean and Carnival Corp., which “cost millions of dollars to resolve,” said Port Authority Executive Director Alberto Escudero.
The public sector also tackled five key areas that were impeding the flow of cruise ships into the San Juan, Ponce and Mayagüez ports — overhauling infrastructure, establishing strategic alliances, working on enhancing the existing product as well as passenger experience and improving access — Jaime López, chief development officer of the Economic Development and Commerce Department said.
“Doing those things will allow the industry to grow in Puerto Rico and position the island as a premiere cruise ship destination,” López said.
The most significant move the government made to attract cruise ships companies was revamp the Cruise Ship Incentives Law, which included changes that Paige said went “better than we even hoped for.”
“When your government asked [to host] the conference, it was on the understanding that they were going to tackle certain issues, such as the impediments with Royal and Carnival, the improvements to infrastructure, and opening up competition for tour operators,” Paige said. “We didn’t ask for an improvement on incentives, but the government put forward an incentive package that was better than we even hoped for and it set the stage for this event.”
Sailing back in
The work of the past two years is already bearing fruit, as at least five new cruise ships will dock in Puerto Rico for the first time in coming months, namely the Carnival Dream, the Celebrity Silhouette, the Norwegian Sun, the luxurious Azamara Journey, and the P&O Artemis. Meanwhile a handful of others will be returning to the island — the MSC Poesia, the Grand Princess, the Disney Fantasy, the Freedom of the Seas and the Navigator of the Seas.
In 2009, the latest statistics the government has, showed that the cruise ship industry injects $250 million into the local industry, while each visiting passenger spends an average of $100 during their hours on the island, López noted.