Concerns in regional tourism with growth of cruise
Despite the relatively small size of the Caribbean (approximately 44 million persons and 87,000 sq. miles scattered across 26 island states and territories) the region is the world leader in the global cruise industry and pleasure boating sub-sectors. Indeed, the Caribbean is regarded as ‘the cruise capital of the world’.
Cruise business and yachting have been major contributors to tourism revenues and are vital to the national economy of most of these countries. Portside Caribbean therefore focuses on this sub-sector of Caribbean maritime affairs each year.
Of recent special interest was the tremendous progress being made in St. Maarten in rebuilding its cruise ship reception facilities following extensive hurricane destruction in 2017. Meanwhile, in Barbados, there was concern that the country was not maximising benefits from the cruise industry. The country’s Tourism minister declared that “…the cruise sector in Barbados is in a state of very deep crisis” despite the fact that the country received a record number of cruise passengers in the previous year.
The concerns expressed in Barbados and the ensuing discussions and commentary, brought to the fore issues that affect many other Caribbean cruise destinations. The fact that the cruise ship had itself become a competitor, with tourists increasingly opting to the stay on board while the ship was in port so as to enjoy luxuries that Caribbean destinations could not offer, was a point of concern.
Concerns about the lack of authenticity and variety of the shore experience were also raised; as was the need for Caribbean destinations to collaborate rather than compete with each other, especially as regards the setting of the ‘head tax’ for passengers that is paid by the cruise lines.
The Caribbean may be the ‘cruise capital of the world’, mooring some of the largest passenger ships afloat; hosting (on board or ashore) some 30 million visitors each year, who spent, in 2017, a record total of USD37 billion (according to the Associated Press). However, concerns about the industry’s contribution to Caribbean economic growth and the returns on investment in cruise port infrastructure – investments made with borrowed capital – continue to worry small countries that increased their national debt so as to cater to this industry.
Cruise business is lucrative and growing rapidly all over the world. Even inustrial China has started to aggressively expand its cruise sector. Yet despite the global growth and success of this industry there are apparently concerns and jitters in the Caribbean where cruise business, as we now know it, started. 
- First published November 1, 2018