Airlines & Airports
Brian Major | May 12, 2015 2:00 PM ET
Carnival's Big-Ticket Amber Cove Cruise Port Near Completion
For a company that prefers not to be in cruise port development, Carnival Corp. is sure spending a lot to build the Amber Cove project in the Dominican Republic's Puerto Plata region.
The Miami-based cruise ship company is spending $85 million to develop this purpose-built cruise ship facility on the country’s northern coast, in partnership with Rannik family of Grupo B&R, a Dominican-based port development firm.
The port is expected to host more than 250,000 cruise passengers in its first year and provide approximately 430 local jobs. Amber Cove is named for this region’s rich minerals reserves, highlighted by generous amounts of amber.
The price tag is “more than we have ever invested in anywhere in the world,” said Giora Israel, senior vice president of global port and destination development for Carnival Corporation.
That’s quite a statement for a company like Carnival, which through its five cruise brands has operations in virtually every part of the world. Israel said Carnival ships operate from 128 global cruise ports. But his rhetoric reflects his company’s desire to continue its passenger growth through new itinerary options in the crucial Caribbean region.
Earlier this month, Israel and David Candib, Carnival’s vice president of development and operations, global port and destination development group, joined Francisco Javier, the Dominican Republic’s tourism director, escorted journalists on a tour of the Amber Cove site, which is scheduled to open in October.
The officials led our group through a spacious port complex set in a broad cove ringed by lush green mountains. The facility features a long pier with two berths that can accommodate the largest ships. They pointed out upcoming facilities that will include a waterfront welcome center; a recreational area with a pool, water park and green spaces; waterfront cabanas; a hilltop bar and observation point; retail outlets selling Dominican crafts and souvenirs; plus multiple food and beverage options.
PHOTO: The Amber Cove pier is ready while buildings at the site near completion. (Photo by Brian Major)
Amber Cove will also offer a staging area from where cruise visitors can embark on a selection of 40 regional land tours. The pier is already built and with building walls and several structures close to finished, the project appeared to be somewhere around 60 to 70 percent complete.
As we walked around it was easy to envision the port’s potential. Amber Cove is a well-planned development that is quite likely to emerge as a favorite among cruise vacationers.
In that sense it will join other successful purpose-built cruise ports of recent years, like Jamaica’s Falmouth port, developed by the country in partnership with Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. in 2011, and Carnival’s Grand Turk Cruise Ship Center, which opened in 2006.
In fact although it now seems unlikely, there was a time when cruise companies were reluctant to invest in port facilities, let alone create multi-million dollar, purpose-built developments with shopping, activities and restaurants.
But as Israel noted, the cruise lines’ high percentage of repeat passengers means guests ultimately want to travel to “new” Caribbean destinations.
Puerto Plata certainly qualifies as “new” to most North Americans. Unlike Punta Cana, which is dominated by large all-inclusive resorts popular with a broad base of North Americans travelers, Puerto Plata tourism is smaller in scale, despite attractions that range from the Caribbean’s only mountain cable car to hundreds of isolated beaches and coves popular with kite-surfers and other adventure-oriented travelers.
“Whenever you invest in a port there is always an inherent risk doing business in another country,” said Israel. “[But] we found a very welcoming government here that wants to help."
The project is viewed as critically important for Dominican Republic’s tourism industry. The government is engaged in an aggressive program to promote areas of the country beyond Punta Cana as it looks to expand on its strong success in that region.
“The new port will give cruise passengers an opportunity to see another part of the Dominican Republic,” said Javier. “Our Amber Coast hasn’t been available as part of cruise itineraries in nearly 30 years. This is a very exciting development.”
Nevertheless, “This is a very complicated project,” said Israel. “What we risking most here is not the $90 million, although that is a lot of money,” he continued. “The risk is we are starting to market the northern coast of the Dominican Republic.”
Israel said Carnival Corp. will be “spending hundreds of millions of dollars over the next five to 10 years” to make Amber Cove port an “anchor” for new itineraries that will incorporate established cruise ports including Key West, Fla., Grand Turk, the Bahamas, Jamaica and the U.S. Virgin Islands. “Ships that come here from our five brands will all be coming here from different places,” he said.
He added, “There are several markets that are becoming increasingly important to the cruise industry but the Caribbean is the single largest share of our business. “ We believe Amber Cove will quickly become a very popular port of call for our guests. It will give guests a convenient gateway to the Puerto Plata region (and) allow us to offer guests a new option in our Caribbean itineraries.”
The project is particularly resonant for the North American market which is the cruise lines’ largest source market and in the last several years has also driven Dominican Republic tourism to unprecedented success. “There was a time when Americans might say, ‘No, no, I’m not doing the D.R.,’” said Israel. “But that’s over.”
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