Carnival Cruise ships docked side-by-side in the Caribbean. (Photo via iStock Editorial / Getty Images / Debbie Ann Powell)
The Caribbean is a beloved region for cruisers from across the world; it remains, according to CLIA’s 2022 State of the Cruise Industry report, overwhelmingly the most popular region for cruisers, with 44 percent of cruisers identifying it as their favorite region to cruise in the world.
But the pandemic has hit this region harder than many others; since many islands are dependent upon tourism as the main economic driver, many of these islands went through severe economic hardships.
According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, in 2019 the travel and tourism industry accounted for 14.1 percent of the Caribbean’s GDP and employed more than 15 percent of its population, accounting for 2.8 million jobs. In 2020, the Caribbean lost $34 billion in revenue and nearly a quarter of its jobs in the industry, or about 700,000 jobs.
This year, Caribbean cruising is expected to return with gusto, with many cruise lines announcing their full fleets will be deployed across the world for the first time in two years, including in the Caribbean. The latest Cruise Trends report found that the Caribbean is the most popular destination for guests booking premium cruises.
Cheerie Dorris, owner of Cheerie Travel LLC, an independent agency affiliated with the Avoya Travel Network, has seen these trends in action, as well as many more. “Many clients are starting to book longer cruise vacations or back-to-back cruises since they weren’t able to sail for a couple of years,” said Dorris. “They are also upgrading room categories to enhance the experience onboard. In the past, if they were balcony guests, they’re opting for suites; if they were interior or oceanview, they’re choosing balcony rooms.”
“Many clients are also choosing cruises with new and interesting ports of call in the Caribbean, while others really don’t care where the ship sails; they just want to be on a ship. I’m also seeing a lot of new-to-cruise clients, which means the marketing the cruise lines have invested in is working.”
More destinations in the region are reopening to cruising, too. Most recently the Cayman Islands reopened to cruising on March 21, announcing that it would accept twenty-one visits to its shores through April 17.
There were several of these destinations present at CLIA’s most recent event, the 2022 Cruise360 convention, including Cruise Barbados. Though Cruise Barbados’ Business Development Officer, Tia Broomes, was honest about the hardship the people of Barbados endured the past two years, she also saw hopeful signs of recovery this year.
A portion of Barbados’ brilliant coastline. (photo courtesy of Barbados Tourism Marketing, Inc.)
“First of all, tourism is our number one business on the island,” said Broomes. “That’s how we pay our bills, that’s how our economy thrives and grows, so it’s the number one economic earner for the country. When COVID happened, it severely impacted all that we do, both directly and indirectly. From the cruise perspective, of course it was very dramatic. We were in the middle of our ‘19-’20 winter season, and then things came to a halt.”
As the biggest homeporting hub in the southern Caribbean, Barbados became a safe harbor for cruise ships that were turned away from other destinations when the pandemic ground travel to a halt. Over 35 ships ported out of Barbados over the course of more than a year, giving both guests and crew a place from where they could figure out how to get back to their homes.
Cruising began in Barbados on June 7, 2021, welcoming calls from Celebrity and Seabourn first. “We got into the real thick of things when our cruise season kicked off towards the end of October. We had between sixteen to seventeen [inaugural or first-to-Barbados sailings] throughout the season,” said Broomes. Included among these were the Viking Orion, the Enchanted Princess and MSC Seaview ships.
“The season got up to a great start, but leading up to that, we had all these extensive discussions and engagements with our cruising partners, local stakeholders, of course Ministry of Health, to come up with these very comprehensive set of protocols…We not only had to protect the cruise visitors, but obviously our local population. They worked really well!”
Barbados is now working towards recovering from its past two years without its regular levels of tourism, both cruise and otherwise. Currently, travelers can enter Barbados provided they test negative prior to entering the island; those taking cruises to Barbados must also provide a recent negative COVID-19 test and are allowed on approved excursions only.
From a broader perspective, overall cruise lines are seeing record numbers of bookings and sold-out itineraries, including in this region. Carnival Cruise Line recorded its busiest booking week in the company’s five decades during the week between March 28 through April 3, 2022. Its last ship, Carnival Splendor, will set the entire fleet back into service beginning May 2 in Seattle, another milestone in the cruise line’s and the cruise industry’s recovery.
No doubt the return to fleet-wide service will boost not only the number of cruise ships sailing throughout the Caribbean this year but also the economies of the Caribbean islands, especially heading into the winter season. A new cruise line, Margaritaville at Sea, will also be debuting later this year, offering travel advisors another unique Caribbean cruising option for their clients.
However, with mandates in place, it is still preventing some from cruising right now, as noted by Brad Striegel, Cruise Planners Franchise Owner and Travel Advisor.
“As more travel restrictions on cruise lines [are] dropped, it seems more people want to cruise. However…many believe unvaccinated clients are being discriminated against. My clients just want to have a good time at just about any Caribbean location and not have to deal with COVID health protocol hassles,” said Striegel.
Dorris believes pricing may impact things in the future.
“I predict demand will continue to rise as people feel more comfortable with the safety measures put in place onboard and the Caribbean destinations fully open up to visitors. But that also means prices will rise as that demand is there,” said Dorris.
“The cruise lines will be at full capacity again very soon. I recommend to anyone planning a future cruise, book it now to ensure you can get the accommodations you want before they’re gone…Cruising is back in a big way. Many cruisers are booking a lot of close-in sailings but many more are planning multiple cruises for 2023 and 2024. I anticipate 2023 will be much bigger for the cruise industry than 2019, which was a record year.”
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