US Cruise Industry Preparing for Cuba By Josh Keefe
U.S. cruise lines are preparing to enter uncharted waters — Cuban waters.
Although U.S. tourists are still technically banned from visiting the Caribbean country, one of the world’s last remaining communist states, the process of normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba has the cruise industry ready to pounce.
“Once the rules allow us to go legally, once the embargo is lifted, which is the main restriction … yes, we’re ready,” Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) told the Sun-Sentinel at the annual Cruise Shipping Miami conference last week. “And I would bet that all of us in this town are ready to move at a drop of a hat.”
Despite the restrictions, thousands of American citizens travel to Cuba annually, CBS News reports. European and Canadian-owned cruise lines often make port stops in Havana. Tourism is already a major part of the Cuban economy, with or without American cruise lines. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba found itself economically isolated, and one response was to turn to tourism. Since 1994 there has been a two-currency system in place in Cuba. One currency is used by tourists (the convertible peso) that is pegged to the US dollar. The other currency (the national peso) is less valuable and is what the government uses to pay its workers. The government announced in late 2013 that the two currency system would be gradually phased out.
“There are a number of factors for consideration before a cruise line would commit to adding a destination to an itinerary,” Elinore Boeke, CLIA’s public affairs director, told CBS MoneyWatch. “With Cuba, these include infrastructure and port facilities, and regulatory and policy considerations. The industry continues to closely monitor developments regarding U.S.-Cuba relations.”
These considerations are easily overcome once the government gives the go ahead, however, when there is money to be made.
“My unfulfilled dream is to be on the bridge of one of my ships coming into Havana harbor,” Norwegian Cruise Line’s Del Rio, whose family left Cuba when he was a child, told CBS station WFOR-TV last month.
That dream might soon come true.