'Despite all the past negatives we've heard about Mexico,' as FCCA president Michele Paige put it, cruise ports are thriving once again.
'We are here to both revel in the success of Mexico and to learn from this success,' Paige told FCCA delegates at the opening of the association's 22nd annual conference and trade show in Cozumel.
The event has drawn a large number of Mexican officials, including newly appointed Secretary of Tourism Enrique de la Madrid Cordero, who participated in the opening ceremony along with Quintana Roo Gov. Roberto Borge, Cozumel Mayor Fredy Marrufo, Carnival Corp. & plc and FCCA chairman Micky Arison, and Karl Holz, president of Disney Cruise Line, who delivered the keynote address.
Cozumel handled a whopping 3.3m passengers from FCCA member lines last year, 1m more passengers than in 2007, when Cozumel last hosted the FCCA event.
Paige cited cruising's importance to Mexico overall, with 5.5m passengers visiting the country's ports in 2014, nearly 5.7m projected this year and more than 6.1m for 2016.
After security concerns drove ships away from some Pacific ports a few years back, the business is rebounding, with Mazatlán as a prime example—it will have more than 300,000 passengers next year.
Paige credited Mexico's 'secret weapon' in the form of Quintano Roo Gov. Roberto Borge. 'He sprang into action,' she said, working with the new federal government and all the states to provide constant communication, ensure a safe and secure environment and an improved product.
Tourism Secretary de la Madrid delivered 'an affectionate greeting and welcome' from President Enrique Peña Nieto to FCCA delegates and said the cruise industry is beneficial to Mexico.
'We want to work as partners with this industry. We need to innovate,' he added. 'We know there is competition from other destinations.'
In addition to Gov. Borge Mexico has another secret weapon, de la Madrid said—its people.
'We work with calidad y calidez—quality and warmth.'
For his part, Borge noted Cozumel is the leading port in the Caribbean and Latin America. 'The cruise business has transformed our island and our state,' he said, citing the jobs created. In addition to Cozumel, Costa Maya in Majahual is a strong cruise draw. Together the two ports had 1,267 calls and more than 3.7m passengers last year, with an increase expected in 2015, Borge said.
Disney's Holz told FCCA delegates this is an incredibly dynamic time for the cruise industry, with remarkable growth, innovative ships, considerable port development and new destinations.
The cruise business has an economic impact of nearly $2bn annually across the Caribbean, Holz said, adding that the Caribbean is a 'breathtaking and wonderful place to take a cruise.'
Yet China is growing exponentially, which has a significant impact on market share, and the Mediterranean has been strong historically although there are some economic and geopolitical concerns. Meanwhile, the Caribbean continues strong but market share went to 36%, a two-point drop as Asia had a two-point gain. Those types of shifts may continue in the future, Holz said, while Cuba's emergence signals the need for other Caribbean destinations to ensure visitor experiences are 'as fantastic as they can be.'
Holz cited a Caribbean Tourism Organization study's findings that highlighted the need to refresh, reinvent, adapt and take risks in order to remain competitive.
'Being successful requires the dedication and partnership of everyone here today,' he told the FCCA gathering.