Tampa cruises will add millions to Cuban economy

HAVANA, Feb. 20th  Major cruise lines will start sailing from Port Tampa Bay to Havana in the coming months, with possibly more than 40,000 passengers spread out over 22voyages who could add more than $5 million to the Cuban economy this year and next.

These statistics are from a new report by the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, which crunches numbers on business between the two nations.

John Kavulich, president of the council, said he based his figures on if the ships are at full passenger capacity.

For 2017, Royal Caribbean Cruises has 10 cruises from Tampa scheduled onboard its 1,602-passenger Empress of the Seas with a stop of one day and night in Havana. The first departs on April 30.

Last week, Carnival Corp. announced it will have 12 cruises from Tampa for 2017 and 2018 that offer one day and night in Havana. The first departs on June 29 and all will sail on the 2,052-passenger Carnival Paradise.

Cruise passengers typically spend $75 per day on things like meals and souvenirs, Kavulich said.

In Cuba, these expenditures can be done with private or state-run businesses.

More than 40,000 passengers can be brought to Cuba on these cruises out of Tampa.

“Added to this is the berthing fee for the vessel, which varies depending upon size, and then payments for tours,” Kavulich said.

The porting costs are paid to the Cuban government. Educational sightseeing tours are conducted in partnerships with state-run agencies.

It is against U.S. law to visit Cuba purely for tourism. Instead, the trip must fall under one of 12 legal reasons such as research, sports competition or education. Cruise passengers will fit under education.

So, while passengers on these 22 cruises from Tampa can partake in touristy activities such as snorkeling or lying on the beach during other stops on their journey, including Cozumel and Key West, their experience in Havana must include a learning component.

Carnival’s website, for instance, says passengers will visit Havana’s Central Park and the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary built in the 1700s and then see a cabaret show.

Whether one day is enough time to learn about the nation is up to the passenger, said Tom Popper, president of New York-based InsightCuba, which has been leading American tour groups there since 2000.

“How many questions will they ask? How closely will they listen and watch?” Popper said.

“Havana is not a typical Caribbean destination, where larger ships often visit for a day. It has a rich cultural heritage.”

Passengers will also have free time to explore Cuba, or they can return to the ship for cruise activities.

In 2015, President Barack Obama restored diplomatic ties with Cuba for the first time in five decades. Air travel has resumed between the nations, and now cruise lines give travelers another way to visit.

Whether Americans’ ability to travel to Cuba is temporary or permanent remains unknown. President Donald Trump has stated he will roll back Obama’s Cuba initiatives if he doesn’t get a better deal out of Cuban President Raúl Castro. Trump has yet to provide specifics.

In late January, Gov. Rick Scott threatened to cut funds from any Florida port that enters into a business agreement with the Cuban government.

In response, ports that planned on signing memorandums of understandings with Cuba to seek out future business possibilities decided against doing so.

However, this threat has no effect on cruise lines, which are private businesses that lease space from ports.

When the more than 30 cruise ships to Cuba out of Miami for 2017-2018 are added to those sailing from Tampa, more than 110,000 such passengers and an $11 million economic impact could be brought to the island, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.