Cruise ship activity in Colombia has grown by nearly 13% since 2012, bringing over 275,000 tourists to port on 193 voyages, according to statistics circulated at the Florida Carribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) Conference and Trade Show, being held this week in Cartagena.
This is the first time Colombia has played host to the conference, the most important gathering in the global cruise industry, despite having been a part of the FCCA since 2004.
Government officials are using the four-day event to highlight the recent growth cruise ship tourism has seen in Colombia, and the efforts the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos in particular has made to promote tourism overall, which has reportedly increased by 7.7% in the first six months of 2013.
On Tuesday, President Santos himself spoke to a crowd of over 1,000 industry leaders, reinforcing official support of the cruise trade, and announcing his “ambitious goals” for future growth.
In the coming year, he said, Colombia plans to bring 32 cruise lines to its shores, and by 2017, the country hopes to open its ports to over 1 million traveling foreigners.
Colombia’s steady investment in tourism — including improvements made to infrastructure, transport, security, services and advertising — he said, along with the incentives presented by its “location and the beauty of [its] tourist destinations, convert [it] into an ideal partner to inject dynamism into the cruise industry in the Caribbean.”
Currently, cruise ship activity contributes an estimated $33 million annually to the Colombian economy, primarily in places such as Cartagena and Santa Marta, and other prominent ports and tourist destinations along the Caribbean coast. Caribbean cruise travel represents the most significant portion of the greater international industry, although in Colombia, there has been increased naval tourism from countries such as Chile and Peru, with tourists disembarking along the Pacific coast.
According to Santos, who called the industry “attractive, modern and competitive”, cruise activity “positively touches the lives of the many people sustained by its chain”. Not everyone is as convinced.
Environmentalists complain of the heavy sewage and garbage left behind by the massive cruise ships, as well as the particularly harmful byproducts of the heavy oil they burn, unfiltered, at an average rate of 1,500 gallons a day.
The ships, which can avoid most international restrictions by virtue of their transient nature, are also infamous hotbeds of labor abuse within international labor activist communities.
Even the economic benefits themselves are ambiguous, with many experts arguing that tourist activity contributes relatively little to local economies, and encourages a tenuous form of unsustainable development.
Still, Colombia plans to move ahead with its encouragement of cruise ship tourism. The Port of Cartagena, the primary cruise ship destination in the country, recently invested $4 million to accomodate larger travel vessels, and in 2014, Colombia expects an 18% increase in the number of cruise lines servicing its ports.
- President Santos’ speech to the FCCA
- Presidential press release
- Los cruceros ponen sus ojos en Colombia (Semana)
- Mercado de cruceros le genera 33,4 millones de dolares al pais (El Universal)
- How bad for the environment are cruise ships? (Slate)
- How responsible are cruise ships? (Responsible Travel)