Every captain needs a first mate. And at Virgin Voyages, the adults-only cruise line set to debut in 2020, its second-in-command will be none other than travel agents.
TORONTO — Michele Paige, President of the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA), could not have stressed it enough: “The Caribbean is open for business,” she said repeatedly during a press conference that provided media with cruise industry updates following Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
“The FCCA has been working tirelessly with partners in supporting recovery and building efforts, because Caribbean destinations are not just our partners – they are our family,” she said.
Paige noted that the vast majority of the region – which spreads an incredible one million square miles – was unaffected by the hurricanes. Of nearly 100 ports in the Caribbean, almost 85% are open and fully operational, with this number expected to rise to over 90% in the coming weeks. The ports hardest hit– St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. Maarten, and San Juan – are quickly recovering.
“Public perception has been affected by the storms,” she said, “but this perception cannot be further from the truth.” Paige encourages all travellers to “support recovery efforts in the best possibly way” – by booking a cruise to the region.
Her impassioned plea is particularly significant considering that a single cruise season generates US$2.4 billion to the Caribbean, and that a single cruise call represents half a million dollars in economic impact. “Cruising is vital to the region’s growth and opportunities,” she added.
Also on the panel was Arnold Donald, CEO and President of Carnival Corporation, and Chair of CLIA. “People ask, ‘Is it a good time to go to the Caribbean, or should we wait?’ The answer is simply, ‘Yes, it is a great time to go’,” he said, noting that Carnival Corporation currently has 60,000 guests in the region on 20 full ships.
“Most of the Caribbean was untouched by the storms. Recovery is happening very quickly due to the widespread efforts of locals. Everyone is being very supportive,” he said. “Every destination is expected to be up and running in the upcoming weeks.”
Adam Goldstein, Chair of the FCCA and President and COO of Royal Caribbean who also took part in the conference, was in St. Thomas just last week and reported good progress was being made with regards to infrastructure and shore excursion operations. He credits USVI’s governor, who he refers to as “bullish”, for spearheading relief efforts, and is optimistic that the island will be back in good order by mid-November.
Things are looking so good that Royal Caribbean has announced that Adventure of the Seas will return to St. Thomas on Nov. 10, the first time it has sailed to the island since early September. In addition, the cruise line will return to San Juan and St. Maarten by the end of November, and by Dec. 1 all scheduled calls to the three islands will operate as planned.
Goldstein, who also paid a visit to San Juan last week, reported that the Old Town looks “completely fine” and that ports, though having suffered some impact, are already being utilized.
“To some extent, New Orleans is still recovering from Katrina, which happened 10 years ago,” he noted. “This happens, there is recovery, people will feel an impact for years to come. But the most supportive thing we can do is to visit the Caribbean now.”
To keep cruisers updated on recovery efforts, and to promote the region as being open to tourists, the FCCA has launched a new website, caribbeanisopen.com, which is now live. Travellers will find island updates, traveller testimonials, and links to cruise line and travel partners.
For more information, check out the lead article in Travelweek’s Oct. 26 issue. To subscribe, click here.