In the wake of hurricanes Irma and Maria, the widespread perception developed that the entire Caribbean had been devastated. News media showed extensive damage and reported that people were without water and electricity. The private sector as well as governments in Europe and the United States dispatched relief workers and supplies to the region. Hearing this, many people assumed that the Caribbean is a total write-off and began to look elsewhere for their vacation destinations.
This perception threatens to compound the impact of the storms. The economies of the Caribbean are heavily dependent upon tourism and cruising in particular. For example, a call by a cruise ship to an island can have a half a million dollar impact on an island's economy. A single cruise season can directly generate as much as $2.4 billion for the Caribbean. If the cruise ship passengers were to stay home, the economic impact on the Caribbean would be catastrophic.
Clearly, the public perception that the Caribbean is not a place to go for a vacation also is not good for the cruise lines. While cruising has become a worldwide business, the cruise lines tend to congregate in the Caribbean during the winter months. People who have cruises booked wonder whether they should go and people who have not yet booked may decide that it would be better to do something other than cruising this winter.
Therefore, the leaders of the two largest cruise conglomerates, Carnival Corporation's CEO Arnold Donald and Royal Caribbean Cruises' President and COO Adam Goldstein, took the unusal step of holding a joint press conference to address this perception and urge that now is a good time to visit the Caribbean.
The first point they made was that the storms did not devastate the entire region.
“Most of the region was untouched by the storms meaning almost all of the beautiful and enjoyable destinations the people have come to know and love are open and welcoming visitors with big smiles and open arms.” Mr. Donald explained.
Mr. Goldstein agreed. “Florida and the Caribbean have been our company's home for almost 50 years. The Caribbean is right in our name. And every year millions of our customers take a cruise and get to experience the beauty and the wonder of the Caribbean and we really don’t expect this year to be any different.”
Second, those cruise ports that were hit hard by the storms are on the road to recovery and the cruise lines will be returning to them soon.
“Of the 50 ports in the Caribbean that our brands call on only four were significantly affected -- St. Maarten, St. Thomas, St. Croix and San Juan. All of those will be welcoming guests before the end of November.” Mr. Golstein asserted. In fact, Royal Caribbean's Adventure of the Seas has already resumed doing cruises from San Juan and Grandeur of the Seas is scheduled to call in St. Maarten in early November.
Mr. Donald continued: “Recovery is happening very, very quickly in the affected areas. And that’s thanks to widespread support efforts and the strength and resiliency of the people. We expect virtually every destination to be up and running in coming weeks which is a very positive outcome for the Caribbean as a whole.”
Third, guests can expect to havr a meaningful cruise experience even when visiting the ports most affected by the storms.
“The number one thing is [that the destination] exceed our guest expectations. And so we’re not going to take guests any place where they can’t have a great experience. So, excursions that guests love have to be up and operating in a fashion that is going to absolutely exceed their expectations.” Mr. Donald explained.
“There's no point in going to a port if we can’t deliver a guest satisfying experience.” Mr. Goldstein elaborated.
So as you see us begin to return to the various key destinations that were affected by the hurricanes then that is a statement on our part that we now believe we have secured appropriate shore excursion capacity to deliver a guest satisfying experience.”
Above: Adam Goldstein, President and COO of Royal Caribbean.
Mr. Donald reported that he has been to St. Maarten since the storms struck. “There's a lot of cleanup to do in St. Maarten for certain but they were very much on it already just a few days after the storm. I can’t predict for them but I would be surprised if, by January or even before Christmas, St. Maarten isn’t up and running at a level and a quality that again would exceed guest expectations.”
Mr. Goldstein had just returned from St. Thomas. “In Charlotte Amaile, the downtown area is looking in good shape and the merchants were very bullish. Actually not just the merchants but all of the shore excursion operators of various different types whether they're more of the adventure kind or more of the retail kind - - all very bullish about the progress that they’re making and their ability to come back better than before.”
“There's still road clearance that has to take place in and around the hills of St.Thomas and that’s happening every day now. And Magen's Bay which is one of the key beach areas of the island is something that I can vouch for. Royal Caribbean International is taking a very strong posture of involvement in the restoration of that beach area. That together with the other beach restoration efforts that are going on will have St. Thomas back in good order very shortly. So the governor is extremely bullish for the island being able to, as Arnold would say, exceed guest expectations by early - - middle
November and that’s what were all aiming for.”
Mr. Goldstein has also been in San Juan. “When you drive around the old town of San Juan it looks completely fine. El Morro the fortress obviously by definition it’s been there 500 years it’s completely fine. The [cruise terminals], we're already using them to turn Adventure of the Seas around.”
However, when San Juan returns as a cruise port of call, there “will probably be more emphasis on the city core than there has been in the past at least in the near term. Yes it is correct that the El Yunque Rain Forest was particularly damaged, a lot of significant amount of tree damage,which is sort of what that place is.”
Just because the recovery efforts are going well, does not mean that the island will shortly return to the status quo ante.
“I think it’s really important to understand the distinction between the long road that Puerto Rico has ahead of it to fully recover from the impact of the storms and what we need to do to deliver a guest satisfying experience that contributes to the economic recovery of the island.” Mr. Goldstein noted.
Mr. Donald continued. “to an extent New Orleans is still recovering from Katrina which happened over ten years ago. We were onboarding ships, as were others in the industry, in New Orleans, a year or so or less after Katrina.”
Here “there is recovery [but] people will feel the impact potentially for years to come. The most positive thing we can all do is to help support them through the economic multiplier effect of taking advantage of the wonderful things that are fully operational and available for people to still enjoy.”
Cruise News - Caribbean is Open For Business - Arnold Donald - Adam Goldstein