Colombia’s Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism announced Friday that cruise ship tourism to the country rose by 26.6% between January and November 2013.
Minister of Tourism Santiago Rojas Arroyo claimed in the report that Colombia received 259,805 tourists by cruise ship between January and November 2013, with an increase of 32.3% in November, during the height of travel season, as compared to the previous year.
The popular Caribbean entry points of Cartagena and Santa Marta in northern Colombia and San Andres Island, 435 miles off the mainland, reportedly received a total of 186 cruise ships from January to November 2013.
“Between January and November 2012,” the reports reads, “Santa Marta only received one cruise ship with 80 passengers on board. Over the same period of 2013 they received five ships with 1,716 tourists aboard.”
In the first half of 2014 alone, 210 cruise ships are scheduled to dock in Colombia, bringing with them 570,000 visitors and an estimated $47 million in revenue, according to the ministry.
Deputy Minister of Tourism Sandra Howard Taylor said that the increase in cruise ship tourism was due to the growth of important business links with companies such as the Florida and Caribbean Cruise Association, which hosted its annual conference in Cartagena last fall.
Speaking at the conference in October, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos told industry leaders that Colombia hopes to receives one million passengers by 2017 and that the country is “truly ready to invest in the cruise ship industy.”
Santos went on to discuss how “Colombia has, to date, invested about $4 million to create the necessary infrastructure” for cruise ships to dock, and that the industry “has a positive impact on the lives of those who work in its chain; be it taxi drivers, port operators or traders.”
The true implications of the tourist industry, however, on Colombia and the greater Caribbean, are not necessarily so positive.
Cruise ships have been linked to any number of environmental issues, as explained by Slate.com. Many drop anchor in close proximity to coral reefs, damaging one of the key attractions that brings their passengers to the Caribbean in the first place. Ambiguities in international environmental laws allows the ships to dump waste overboard, contaminating warm, nutrient-poor Caribbean waters with heavy organic material. The fuel used by the ships is among the dirtiest in the world, and embarking passengers can overwhelm the local ecosystems of the beaches the ships take them to.
In economic terms, as well, the cruise industry raises concerns. Reports from the BBC and ResponsibleTravel.com, for example, explain that cruise ship employees are paid substandard wages, forced to remain on the boats at port, and work up to 18 hours or more per day.
Furthermore, while the economic advantages of cruise ship tourism are often toted by local and national governments, the cruise industry’s well-documented practices of offering all-inclusive packages and actively discouraging spending on land undermine those benefits. Infrastructure accommodations tend to be paid using public funds, but, as Global Travel Sector News has reported, 82% of cruise profits are retained by the ships themselves, which pay minimal or no taxes at port, while only 18% is dispersed on shore.
By Alexandra Jolly, Colombia Reports
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