10 JUN 2016: Carnival Corporation launched its tenth and newest brand, Fathom Cruises, geared, as reported on its website, for social impact travel. “Fathom offers consumers authentic, meaningful travel experiences to enrich the life of the traveller and work alongside locals as they tackle community needs,” says the world’s largest cruise company. In between sessions at FitCuba 2016, I connected with Giora Israel, the senior vice-president of Global Port and Destination Development for Carnival Corporation.

Fathom’s MV Adonia sailed from Miami to Havana for a historic maiden voyage which docked in Cuba on May 2 this year.

Here’s a quick Q&A with Giora Israel:

How did this cruise come about?

Carnival was instrumental in getting the laws changed to allow cruise ships into Havana. We approached the Cuban government and advised them that we would like to start operation with a small ship geared to small ports notably Havana.

What was one obstacle you had to overcome?

What happened was that Cuban-born - not just American, but any Cuban-born - who lives in any country in the world cannot enter Cuba by sea or leave the country by sea. It’s a 40-year Cuban regulation not a law. It’s a Cuban government restriction, if you will, which had its history.

When did the first ship arrive?

I came on the first ship. We docked on Monday, May 2 at 10 am.

How many passengers were on board?

The ship has a 700-passenger capacity (2 people per cabin) but we had about 600 passengers which included press, and management due to the historical moment.

So was it a good seller?

We sold every cabin we had. Every cabin was sold out.

When did you start selling tickets?

We were the first company to get the US permit to operate in June 2015. We started to sell tickets immediately after we got the permit because before that ships were not allowed to sail.

It took the Cuban government almost eight months to approve our request, so we were out in the market promoting our cruise to Cuba without having a Cuban permit until March 22, 2016. We could only really sell cruises and accept deposits earlier - but on March 22 at noon we were able to take our first official reservation.

Do you think the tide has turned now for more cruise companies?

They (Cuban government) haven’t opened it up to everybody. They don’t want suddenly hundreds of ships and yachts arriving here in an uncontrolled manner. No country wants that. So first of all our cruise ship passengers, and then a little over time they’ll look at this policy to expand it.

Who was on the inaugural voyage?

We did have 25 Cuban-born passengers on that ship but we couldn’t sell more because we didn’t have any more cabins and we only had 9 days for it.

Out of the 25 Cuban-born passengers, eight were Cuban-born employees from our company. We wanted to give some of our employees the right to be the first.

Do you recall who the first person was?

Actually one of our employees, a Cuban-born was the first one to put his foot on the ground - so that was 54 years in the making. He was a Cuban-born American along with the vice-president of Carnival Corporation.

What do you think it is about Cuba? In your view will it be a good seller?

There is an extraordinary desire to see Cuba. First of all it is the largest country in the Caribbean then it is this element of the forbidden fruit. It was always there but you couldn’t go there. If you look before the Cuban Revolution, before the embargo came in place it was a very important place for Americans to travel to.

You are with the Carnival Cruise Corporation. Did you hear the Cuban Tourism Minister say ‘we want to remain loyal to the people who remained loyal to us?’ What do you have to say about that?

It’s a wonderful comment for The Minister and for the people of Cuba to remain loyal to the people who have been loyal to them, I respect that. It’s a great decision. I hope over the years we will earn this loyalty also. We already have it now I know because we are making history.

 

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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