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One year on from Hurricane Maria, and the Caribbean is better than ever. At least, that's the pitch made by cruise executives during a media call Thursday afternoon.
On the call were Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival Corporation and global chair for the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA); Adam Goldstein, vice chairman of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and chairman of the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) as well as Michele Paige, president of the FCCA.
Paige opened the session, lauding the people, culture and overall resilience of the Caribbean.
"After a small section of the region witnessed a historic hurricane season last year, there's been an equally historic recovery. That's because of people's willingness to work 18-hour days to restore utilities to potential guests," said Paige.She added that the Caribbean's greatest resource is its people.
"They're the ones who create the experience by establishing authentic and engaging tours. They're the ones making it possible for guests to have a worry-free day. They are the reason that ten million passengers this year alone will receive a great vacation in the Caribbean," said Paige.
Goldstein and Donald both re-emphasized a point they've made continually since last year.
"The vast majority of Caribbean destinations were not affected at all by the storms," said Goldstein.
From a deployment standpoint, every port is in operation. Affected ports are back to business as usual, with the exception of one of two berths in St. Croix. Tour capacity is almost back to normal. In fact, several destinations have launched new programming, said Goldstein.
"It's clear in talking to public officials that they aren't aiming for where they were before the storms. The commitment is there to build back better," said Goldstein.
Both the affected destinations and the cruise industry have learned lessons from last year's storms.
"We dealt with so many different permutations last year that it has put us in a position where we can react faster and better. We've been much more proactive as an industry in working with destinations to make sure they share best practices. Destinations are in much better shape to deal with things," said Goldstein.
Part of what's driving that is a reinvigorated sense of partnership between the region and the cruise industry, said Goldstein. And, he gives credit as well to travel agents for recognizing the importance of the Caribbean.
"Conversations with travel agents are not at all about last year's storms. There is no noise about whether these destinations are ready to deliver great experiences. If any agents remain leery, they should do site inspections and see that the Caribbean is open to everyone," he said.
Donald drove home the point that the Caribbean is a behemoth not likely to lose its standing any time soon.
"The Caribbean is not just the world's largest market for cruise vacations, it's also one of the most popular destinations in the world. It offers a truly unique, unmatched beauty. We've been sailing there since 1972. Over the years, our brands have sailed tens of millions of guests. This year alone, we have eight brands visiting 58 ports in 28 countries and territories and more than 5,000 port calls," said Donald.
"What a lot of people don't realize is that the Caribbean is one million square miles. The vast majority of the region was completely unaffected by last year storms. Tourism is extremely important to the livelihood of the people living and working there. Cruise is a catalyst for an entire island's recovery. We were all very proud of how quickly operations returned to normal," Donald added.
"The Caribbean is always open for business. Our ships sailed full during the storms last year. They're sailing full now."
Ana Figueroa is a veteran travel industry writer based in Los Angeles. She's a former contributing editor for Travel Agent...
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