Norwegian Cruise Line today announced that it has received approval from the government of the Republic of Cuba to operate cruises to Cuba, beginning March 2017.
Frank Del Rio, the company’s CEO, visited Cuba last year for the first time in 54 years.
He is the only one of the major cruise company CEOs born in Cuba, having immigrated to the US in 1961 following the events surrounding the Bay of Pigs debacle.
“There may be more opportunity for the cruise industry in Cuba than there is in China,” said Del Rio, adding – last year – that his company is poised to exploit a big Cuba opportunity.
What could once have been described as two ships passing in the night, Del Rio and Cuba, are now in a relationship of mutual interests and affinities. Today, Cuba needs growth in its travel and tourism industry to develop its economy, and the cruise industry needs new sources of growth to please its shareholders.
In another recent statement, Del Rio says, “It’s the pent-up demand. Cuba is more than a sandbar in the Caribbean. It has history. It has culture. We think of the music. We think of the arts. It has multiple ports, too.”
Del Rio’s comments about Cuba’s potential to be a source of commercial opportunity add to an emerging sense that decades of scarcity may one day yield abundance for average Cubans in the form of rapid economic growth and development funded by the travel industry’s search for authenticity in a world awash in homogeneity. With so many destinations today having the look and feel of terrestrial cruise ships, Cuba’s history, culture and forbidden fruit quality have created conditions for reverse nostalgia in the way people anticipate being nostalgic for a place that still exists. It’s this quality that creates urgency in affluent travelers – the demographic most sought after by Castro’s Cuba and Del Rio’s cruise business.
In any case, it’s going to be interesting to witness the convergence of the twain: Cuba’s natural gifts of culture and terrain and Del Rio’s Norwegian Cruise Lines’ $12 billion balance sheet – not to mention the entire cruise industry. Can Cuba absorb the wave of cruise ship passengers and remain authentic?