When the world’s largest mega cruise ship, Icon of the Seas, embarked on its maiden voyage this week on an Eastern Caribbean cruise, it reignited a debate about cruising as part of the region’s tourism strategy.
Industry experts are optimistic about the Caribbean cruise sector, considering that a fleet of super-sized cruise ships will set sail this year, with others under construction to be launched in 2025.
Cruise tourism is no longer considered a rival to land-based tourism but a firm partner in the industry. It complements land-based tourism and is a growth sector in its own right.
The inaugural cruise of the Icon of the Seas made its first stop in St Kitts, where the brand new behemoth eased alongside to berth. The buzz of anticipation and activity from the historic occasion spread from Port Zante in the St Kitts capital Basseterre, throughout the twin-island state with Nevis Literally thousands of people were fixated on the spectacle of the world’s largest cruise ship with a capacity for 5,000 passengers, not just in port, but tied up at the dock.
However, building or extending existing ports to accommodate a smooth transition of passengers from ship to shore without requiring the service of ferries or ship tenders, requires planning and huge investment. Across the Caribbean, this is often done as joint ventures - PPP(public/private partnerships) between governments, cruise companies and other investors.
An overarching concern is the need to protect the pristine environment and delicate ecosystems from damage - which is sometimes irreversible. Finding that balance (and funding it) is the challenge that governments cannot shy away from. Protecting the environment while at the same time ensuring the the continued success of the region’s cruise industry are equally critical.
The location of these cruise ports and applying enforceable regulations with stiff penalties are essential is ‘sustainable development’ is to be more than a convenient catchphrase.
As more and larger cruise ships take to the seas with their hordes of fun-seekers, destination nations will be under more pressure to be included on itineraries. Converting cruise passengers to longer-stay land-based guests has always been part of the marketing mix of tourism offices throughout the region. But as cruising has become a destination itself with its packed agenda of on-board and pre-packaged itineraries of multi-destination stops, that conversion is becoming more of a hard sell.
The fact is that cruising is here to stay…and the sector is getting bigger by the day - and the sheer size of ships.
With the pressures on the practicalities of dockside berthing, destinations are having to find the best way to fit into the changing cruise market in the interest of their economies.
The docking of the Icon of the Seas in St Kitts on its maiden cruise voyage was not only an iconic moment for that nation but also marked the start of a new cruise conversation with implications for the wider region, Cayman included.