How do issues like political unrest and crime affect the cruise industry?
Quite a bit, as we’ve seen from recent actions from the cruise lines.
Peter recently spoke with CruiseCritic.com‘s Carolyn Spencer Brown about why several cruise lines are pulling out of a Mexican port, and what the future holds for destinations like Egypt, Libya and Cuba.
Peter Greenberg: You’ve seen all the news reports of the cruise lines like Carnival, Disney and Holland America suspending stops in the port of Mazatlan, Mexico, due to concerns over crime. We’ve seen this before, with cruise lines saying they’ll stop going to certain ports and then, three or four days later, they come back. What’s that all about?
Carolyn Spencer Brown: Mazatlan has been an up and down situation. Frankly, there have been up and down situations all over the place in terms of cruise lines canceling cruises. Between fog in Texas and an earthquake in Christchurch and the events in the Middle East, it’s really a crazy time to try to travel anywhere. But having said that, what I’ve been told about Mazatlan is that it does have problems. That the cruise lines are concerned about not just the passengers, but also the crew. Until they are seriously convinced that the leaders in those communities have stepped up and changed things it’s not good for Mazatlan.
PG: The cruise lines were out of Mazatlan for about a week prior to this.
CB: They were out for a week and now they’re canceling again. Instead, they’re going to Cabo for an extra day. This is a very similar situation to what happened with St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands a decade ago. There were all these incidences of crime—relatively small types of crimes, but a couple of not-so-small ones. The tourism officials and the safety folks there didn’t really deal with it. The cruise lines pulled out and they’ve never really gone back since. It’s a shame because St. Croix is a fantastic destination. In Mexico, it is only Mazatlan that they’re concerned about. They’re a little concerned about Acapulco, but they have to get it together because they’re losing traffic to Cabo.
PG: Earlier this year, you and I started to talk about the cruise lines starting to go back to Libya, to Tripoli and Benghazi. Gaddafi had relaxed the restrictions and was allowing Americans with passports, so a number of cruise lines were planning on going there. They’re still planning on going there this fall. It will be interesting to see if they preemptively cancel or if they do the smart thing and just wait and see what happens.
CB: One of the things that’s been so different about this year is that things seem really bad. The cruise lines cancel the whole season, like in Egypt, and then things improve and the Nile is open again. With Libya, we have a Cruise Critic writer who is scheduled to go here in two weeks and she has still not heard whether or not she is going to go.
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PG: Although I’ll tell you, the travel industry is such a huge economic agent and the economic imperative is so strong to get that infrastructure back and running. Before Egyptians even have a new election or a new set of leaders, they will have their travel industry up and running. A big part of that, of course, is the cruise industry.
CB: I think that represents a new world order, don’t you? It used to be cancel for the season and that’s it. Now they cancel for the season and then they’re like, “What did we do? We could have gone back.” I think tourism has become that important.
PG: Not only that important; it moves so fast. It’s now March. I strongly believe by the end of this year Cuba will open up to Americans. It will open up because we’re dealing with two separate issues here: the trade embargo, which goes back to 1963, and the travel ban. They’re not going to touch the trade embargo but they will release the travel ban. When they relax that, it’s only a matter of minutes before the trade embargo dies because the trade embargo is all about travel.
CB: I think that’s a good point. Even though there are some cruise lines that actually do go there, they’re not American in any way shape or form. I think with Cuba, when you are bringing 3,000 people on a ship you need to have some infrastructure. So I don’t think it will be overnight for the cruise industry. I think maybe the smaller lines, the luxury lines like Star Clipper, could go in pretty quickly.
PG: Well remember, the cruise lines don’t need a hotel; the cruise lines are a hotel.
CB: Yeah, but they need a way for people to get off the ship.
Learn more about the year ahead for the cruise industry with this look at the New Fleet Of Cruise Ships To Set Sail In 2011
PG: You’d be surprised. It’s the law of supply and demand and necessity being the mother of invention. You’ll see commerce start at that port once those ships start to come in. I’ve talked to the CEOs of a number of cruise lines that are all based in Florida and they’ve all told me sort of off the record—at least in terms of attribution—that they have charted eight viable harbors in Cuba. They already have the charts aboard their ships. They already have the orders in place that the minute that travel ban is relaxed, they are going to turn those ships around mid-ocean to be first on their block to sail onto those harbors.
CB: I’ve heard that too. I think that they’ve already made contingency plans, and I think that they’ll go in. You know everybody wants to be first, but I think Cuba as a really great cruise destination is probably years down the road.
PG: Want to make a bet?
CB: Yeah I’ll make a bet. How much? A trip to Cuba?
PG: You bet, you pay.
CB: And you pay if I’m right.
By Peter Greenberg for Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio.
Related Links on PeterGreenberg.com:
- New Fleet Of Cruise Ships To Set Sail In 2011
- Cruise Ship Death: Cruise Ship Entertainer’s Body Found In Cozumel
- Cruise Critics Review The New Disney Dream
- Cruise Travel section