Private Operator Takes Over Havana's Cruise Terminal

Terminal Sierra Maestra, Havana's cruise terminal (GPH)

By MarEx 2018-05-24 18:55:00

Leading cruise port operator Global Ports Holding is taking over the operations of Havana's cruise terminal with a 15-year management agreement. The arrangement takes effect on June 21. 

GPH takes over from Aries SA, an enterprise of the Cuban Ministry of Transportation. It will also be working with its partners in Cuba on the expansion of Havana's cruise terminal infrastructure: the port currently has two cruise berths, and it would like to add four more by 2024. Once the new facilities are built, GPH will be the operator for all six berths. 

GPH is the world's largest private operator of cruise terminals, but the Havana concession is its first in the Caribbean, the world's largest cruise market. “I am very happy that we have signed an agreement for Havana Cruise Port, the first step in the Group’s growth strategy for the Americas," said GPH co-founder and chairman Mehmet Kutman in a statement. "This spectacular city and country is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination, with visitors attracted by world famous architecture, a vibrant music scene and the famous local hospitality."

The Cuban government initiated a previous joint venture with a foreign entity for the operation of cruise terminals in 1998, when Cuban firm Cubanco joined with Italian port operator Silares Terminals to operate the facilities at Havana, Santiago de Cuba and Punta Frances. The JV came with a 20-year concession agreement, but Cuba canceled this arrangement in 2005 and transferred operations back to Aries, alleging that its partner had not complied with Cuban regulations. 

Cuba cruise market shows rapid growth

The news comes as Cuba-bound cruises from the United States are gaining in popularity and frequency. Havana received 328,000 cruise passengers last year, and it expects 500,000 cruise passengers over the course of 2018. 

Since the Obama administration loosened restrictions on travel to Cuba in 2015, cruise lines have repeatedly expanded their offerings to the island. Under current American restrictions on Cuban tourism, most U.S. citizens must travel with an organized group when they visit Cuba, and cruise line shore excursions are well-positioned to meet this requirement - unlike independent air travel arrangements. 

Last month, Carnival Cruise Line added another 20 cruises to Cuba for the 2019 season aboard the Carnival Paradise, sailing out of Tampa, Florida. The voyages are in addition to 17 previously announced sailings of the Carnival Sensation departing Miami. The five-day itineraries feature a day-long or a full day and overnight call in Havana, along with stops at Key West and Cozumel. Earlier this month, Carnival added another 23 sailings aboard five ships, including new departures from Charleston, South Carolina.