Cuba placing increased emphasis on cruise ship calls

Cuba has hosted a first-ever high-level symposium for international cruise lines. The meeting highlighted the emphasis the country is now placing on cruise calls, particularly following the new restrictions placed on individual travel by US citizens to Cuba (For details see Cuba Briefing November 13, 2017).

The two-day meeting in Havana on November 28 and 29 at the Parque Central Hotel was attended by the Presidents of nine of the world’s leading cruise companies, leading figures from three others, and Cuban ministers and senior officials. It was organised by Havantur in conjunction with the Cruise Lines International Association, which represents cruise companies in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australasia, and the Cruise Association of Florida and the Caribbean.

At the meeting and separately discussions centred on the expansion of cruise operations around Cuba, and a range of other issues including ports calls, port facilities, shore visits, length of stay, the requirements of the new US regulations, and home porting.

Speaking to WPLG, an ABC affiliate in Miami, Frank Del Rio, CEO of Norwegian Cruise Lines said that the cruise industry supported Cuba remaining open as a destination while noting that he hoped the US and Cuban governments “can manage their differences”. “The good news”, he said, “is that we are still here”. He went on to
say that of the 500 destinations his company called at “Havana is number one in customer satisfaction”.

“Before the regulations were changed, the ships were full and they continue to be full so we see the minimal impact on our business because of the new regulations,” Mr Del Rio said.

Of the meeting in Havana, he said: “We build relationships, we strengthen the commitment. We saw what the Cuban government is doing in terms of cruising. These meetings are important to continue reaching our mutual interests.”.

In recent months, Cuba has announced plans to implement a programme of port infrastructure development, aimed at boosting cruise tourism in the different ports around the island. At present cruise ships call at Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba staying on some sailings for more than one night.

Of the more than 4m visitors Cuba received in 2016, 112,000 arrived on a cruise ship. Since the resumption of calls out of the US in May 2016, US arrivals have soared with four US cruise companies, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and Pearl Seas now operating in Cuban waters.

Cuban ports and cruise terminals are certified under the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code. Cuba also has memoranda of understanding with nine US port authorities: Virginia, Louisiana, Lake Charles and New Orleans, Alabama, Gulf Port, Pascagoula, Houston, and Cleveland.

The companies participating in the meeting at CEO level were American Cruise Lines, Virgin Voyager, Holland American Line, Carnival Cruise Lines, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruises Lines, Royal Caribbean Cruises, and Azamara Club Cruises. Also present were representatives of Silversea Cruises, Celestyal Cruises, and Disney Cruises Line.

Ministers and Cuban officials participating included Manuel Marrero, the Minister of Tourism; Rodrigo Malmierca, the Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment; Eduardo Rodríguez, Vice Minister of Transport; and Josefina Vidal, the Director General of the US Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

According to the US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, the cruise industry could bring as many as 0.5m travellers
to Cuba in the next two years.

This is an extract from the Caribbean Council’s weekly editorially independent publication, Cuba Briefing, which provides in depth information on current economic, political and commercial developments in Cuba and news on events in Europe and the US that affect the region. Business people, academics, and those with a general interest in Cuba find it an invaluable tool for developing and maintaining knowledge and providing an insight into political, economic and commercial events in the region.

The publication is available internationally on a subscription-only basis. 

Photo Credit: Dan Lundberg, ‘20160316_Cuba_4405 Pano Havana sRGB’,, Flickr