Panama and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. agreed this week to make Panama the starting point for some of its tour operations in a bid to boost the cruise operator's presence in the region and to attract more tourists to the Central American country.
In its first season, which the company plans to kick off in late 2008, Royal Caribbean will operate 17, one-week cruises from Colon, Panama's main Caribbean port. A new cruise terminal should be finished by then. The agreement is geared to attract Central American and European tourists hoping to avoid tight U.S. visa requirements necessary for Miami, from where many popular Caribbean-bound cruises depart. Panama's vice-president Ruben Arosamena, who is responsible for maritime affairs, said the deal marked the beginning of a new industry for Panama "It's a long awaited achievement for Panama", said Carl Fredrik Nordstrm, Deputy Manager of the Panamanian Tourism Board. "The agreement will put us in the global cruise map; in the first stage we estimate that 2.500 cruise visitors will be calling into Panama every week", he added. Adam Goldstein, Royal Caribbean's president said that in the first year of operation, the Panama deal would represent around one percent of annual sales. Royal Caribbean, the world's second-largest cruise operator after Carnival Corporation reported second quarter profits of 1.5 billion US dollars. The mega-class cruise liner "Enchantment of the Seas" will leave homeport Colon, calling at ports in Colombia, Aruba and Curacao. The Enchantment's seven-night voyages will call in Cartagena and Santa Marta, Colombia; Aruba; Bonaire; and Curacao. In addition, guests can sail on two eight-night repositioning sailings between Ft. Lauderdale and Colón on November 29, 2008, and April 5, 2009. Royal Caribbean operates 35 ships in Europe, North America, South America, but the bulk of the firm's business comes from the Caribbean. Panama has four ports from where cruise vessels can operate but it was not until 2000 when the huge floating hotels begun calling in. Before the only contact was when they crossed the Panama Canal. Panama's economy grew a healthy 8.1% in 2006, lifted by increased trade, a construction boom, banking and shipping. A million tourists visited Panama in 2006 leaving an estimated 850 million US dollars according to official data.