Cruising back

Cruise ships plot Caribbean return, joined by a new entrant.

Last year was catastrophic for the cruise industry which had been growing well over previous years. Lockdowns, social distancing and travel restrictions brought the industry to a halt for months while 200,000 industry-related jobs were lost worldwide.

An official at Mexico’s Ministry of Tourism explained the local reality, “Tourism is one of the country’s main sources of income and the pandemic has put at risk local economies such as Cozumel, which is heavily exposed to the cruise industry.”

“Tourism is one of the country’s main sources of income and the pandemic has put at risk local economies such as Cozumel.”

Official, Ministry of Tourism, Mexico

The start of vaccination programmes in the US has been accompanied with a slow reactivation of the sector and the arrival of the first cruise ships in Mexico. The Caribbean island of Cozumel has seen the arrival of four ships since April, the first ones since June 2020 in what used to be the world’s busiest port of call for cruise ships before the pandemic.

The tourism official expanded, “The return will be slow as the main cruise ports are still evaluating security, I would expect a full green light by the fourth quarter of this year. Our first priority is to return to pre-pandemic passenger numbers and then to grow the offering.”

State government officials in Baja California and Yucatan also want to encourage this growth, “Cruises, in particular, have been a great source of income and development for coastal states but it has been concentrated in only a few regions. In Yucatán we want to expand and diversify to further exploit its potential while working in harmony with the environment. Baja California Sur, and especially La Paz, had become one of the leading tourist destinations in Mexico and cruises are important for this. We have a pier in Pichilingue and there is a lot of interest to develop it into a major transit hub for the North Pacific region. The operators not only comply with their own high standards, they also meet the requirements of our very demanding ports.”

This is an important consideration as the industry faces increasing opposition from environmentalist groups which see the pandemic as an opportunity to re-focus Mexico’s tourism sector on sustainability.

The tourism official believes that many of the environmentalist groups have alternate agendas and are poorly informed, “There are these pseudo-environmentalists who pretend to boycott projects on the basis of ecological damage, but they are sponsored by others with political or economic agendas.”

“There are these pseudo-environmentalists who pretend to boycott projects on the basis of ecological damage, but they are sponsored by others with political or economic agendas.”

Official, Ministry of Tourism, Mexico

A clear sign of the reactivation of the sector is the announcement of Cruise Saudi to start operations in the Caribbean from the Cozumel port, starting as early as next June. Furthermore, the Cozumel port is planning to further expand with a fourth cruise ship dock which has the backing of the Mexican government despite opposition from local population which cites risks to the coral regeneration project in the island. Similarly, Mexico’s ITM Group and Carnival Corp. are planning the development of the Port of Pichilingue in the Sea of Cortez, Baja California.

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