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FCCA charts recovery of Eastern Caribbean cruise destinations

PHOTO: Disney Cruise Line
Disney Fantasy is scheduled to call at Tortola in August
Most Caribbean destinations were operating immediately after 2017's devastating hurricane season, and the hardest hit area—the Eastern Caribbean—has made impressive strides.

Through their determination and tireless efforts, the British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, St. Maarten/St. Martin and the US Virgin Islands have not only recovered their livelihoods and tourism, but also worked to improve their products, prepare for the future and address sustainability, according to the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association.

'We consider our destination partners more like family, and we could not be prouder to see the Eastern Caribbean persevere through a challenging time and come back stronger than ever,' FCCA president Michele Paige said. 'However, that does not make us any less committed to assisting in every way possible, from hurricane relief and fostering forums for establishing best practices, to showing travel consumers that the Caribbean remains an amazing vacation option full of unique experiences for everyone, and now they will also see the region’s resiliency.'

British Virgin Islands to receive Disney, Celebrity Edge

The cruise tourism recovery in the British Virgin Islands is well under way, with most of the major restoration works completed and services 100% operational for the cruise port, Tortola Pier Park, which also has 50 of its on-site stores open and all expected back online by August. Hotel rooms and attractions awaiting guests include 684 rooms available throughout hotels and villas, 94 restaurants and 16 attractions, including a zip line.

Cruise lines are planning their returns. Disney Cruise Line recently scheduled its first post-Irma visit to BVI on Aug. 28, following a site visit by Russell Daya, executive director of marine and port operations, port development and itinerary planning. He said Disney was happy to see the destination’s progress to provide a satisfactory and safe guest experience and has 'every confidence in [the] government’s efforts in restoring the destination to a higher standard than previously.'

And Celebrity Cruises’ brand-new Celebrity Edge is scheduled to visit Dec. 19.

'We are pleased to welcome back all visitors to the beautiful shores of the British Virgin Islands following the devastating hurricanes of 2017,' said Mark Vanterpool, minister for communications and works. 'Recognizing the importance of providing for the general welfare of residents and creating exceptional experiences for our visitors, we have focused our efforts on not only rebuilding the territory, but on enhancing our product offerings.'

New initiatives include various interactive experiences fused with BVI culture that cruise passengers can experience, such as cooking classes with local dishes, mixology with local rum and liqueurs, and cultural parades. Six Bohios will be added on popular beaches in Tortola, Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke, and the Sugar Works museum is to be renovated.

'Much effort has been placed in ensuring that our guests and avid vacationers continue to enjoy our unspoiled assets and exciting adventures,' Vanterpool continued. 'The BVI has benefited from its partnership with the FCCA and the various cruise lines, especially Disney, Norwegian and MSC, which have provided relief supplies and key feedback that has been invaluable throughout our recovery.'

Passenger satisfaction levels higher than before the storms

The recoveries of Puerto Rico, St. Maarten and USVI were so swift that they were often welcoming more than 10,000 passengers per day by January. And, as of Feb. 16, San Juan, Puerto Rico, was seeing cruise passenger satisfaction levels higher than those preceding the storms, while satisfaction levels were also tracking higher than pre-hurricane levels for St. Thomas, USVI and St. Maarten, according to Terry Thornton, Carnival Cruise Line’s SVP port operations, guest care and international.

Puerto Rico offers vibrant nightlife, booming culinary and arts scenes and the charm of Old San Juan's cobblestone streets.

The island has also shown its post-hurricanes readiness by hosting big-ticket events including in DIVAS Half Marathon and 5K, a PGA Tour special event, IRONMAN 70.3 and the upcoming Major League Baseball Puerto Rico Series.

'We look to the future, to our fast-paced recovery and to our amazing progress to remind travelers that the best way to support Puerto Rico is by actually visiting,' said Carla Campos, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Co., adding that tourism is a vital contributor to the economy.

New attractions, activities in USVI

The US Virgin Islands are also fully open for business, with most of the popular attractions, restaurants and shops open across St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas and Water Island.

More than 50% of accommodations across the territory are open and accepting guests, and other properties continue to repair or rebuild. Including hotels, villas and other rental options, there are approximately 2,500 units available in the St. Thomas-St. John district, and St. Croix has more than 1,300 units available for stay-over guests. Plus, the government is working on a deal for an equity investment in a new 110-room hotel located at Yacht Haven Grande on St. Thomas—the first new hotel built in the territory in decades.

In addition to beautiful beaches, world-class diving, national parks and an incredible culinary scene, new attractions and activities in USVI include customized treasure hunts for couples, families and groups on St. Thomas and St. John and trendy eateries and shops on St. Croix such as Mahogany Chocolate Co.’s bean-to-bar concept and Leatherback Brewing Co.’s craft beers made from local ingredients.

'Out of crisis, there is opportunity, and the USVI is now on the path of modernizing our infrastructure, improving our ports and unveiling new attractions and experiences,' tourism commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty said. 'These are exciting times for our islands, and we look forward to our continued partnership with the FCCA and its members as we position the US Virgin Islands among the top choices for visitors traveling to the Caribbean.'

St. Maarten hosted 733,000 cruisers from January to June

St. Maarten/St. Martin have been welcoming cruise passengers since early December 2017, with many cruise lines reporting higher satisfaction levels than before the storms, according to Port St. Maarten management. Port St. Maarten has also exceeded its projections of passenger numbers, beatings its estimate from January to June by 15% and welcoming more than 733,000 passengers via 230 cruise calls. And homeporting is scheduled to return in December, with 14 to 16 cruises during high season.

Stay-over tourism is steadily returning with the continuous process of hotel recovery. With more hotels reopening seemingly every day—such as the Oyster Bay Beach Resort on June 1 and Divi Little Bay Beach Resort in May—there are now more than 1,300 rooms and 34% of capacity available on Dutch St. Maarten and 350 rooms in French St. Martin. By year’s end, those numbers are expected to climb to 2,168 rooms and 56% in St. Maarten and 800 rooms and 45% in St. Martin.

The island offers 37 coral sand beaches, crystal blue waters, restaurants, watersports, duty-free shopping, casinos and more. Some 169 restaurants and bars are expected to be open by month’s end.

Plus, the destination has remained focused on improvement, with initiatives including new cultural festivals and nighttime events for visitors and locals alike, a joint tourism memorandum of understanding with the Dutch and French governments, and an exit survey aimed at finding innovative ways to further enhance the guest experience.

FCCA campaign generates 6bn impressions

Experiences for visitors across the Caribbean have been the focus of a multifaceted, multimedia campaign funded by FCCA. The campaign has generated about 6bn impressions, while showing a measurable improvement in terms of visitors who report they will not delay booking or taking a Caribbean vacation.

The campaign has included a series of initiatives including public service announcements by more than 30 celebrities, a satellite media tour; a website featuring an interactive map, passenger testimonials and a questions and answers section; and a media call with top cruise line leaders and over 70 media attendees.

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