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RCCL joint venture signals new direction for port development

Updated: Aug 1, 2019

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCCL) unveiled a new model for cruise destination development, formalizing a partnership with Mexico's ITM Group to pursue projects in collaboration with local authorities.

The new company, dubbed Holistica, will be owned 50% by each partner and have offices in Miami.

Part of the idea, said Royal Caribbean International president Michael Bayley, is to smooth the rather lengthy and tortuous process of getting new port destinations approved and built in many localities.

Beyond that, it recognizes the need to bring all stakeholders to the table.

"We're all aware an emerging change is occurring, not only in the Caribbean but around the world," he said. "We're seeing a shift in how people view tourism, certainly volume tourism, and we've seen that there's really an opportunity to think bigger about the future of cruise tourism as it relates to the development of destinations." 

Bayley said Holistica will work with local communities and governments, travelers, hotel and airline companies. 

"It's really about trying to think in a different way about sustainable development to create win-win outcomes," he said.

Although RCCL and ITM have had dealings for years, Bayley said Holistica grew out of the experience of their latest joint project, a $275 million harbor and resort redevelopment in Freeport, Bahamas.

There, they agreed to acquire the damaged Grand Lucayan resort, the largest on Grand Bahama, and transform it into an attraction, while also upgrading the port facilities in Freeport for more and larger ships. The Grand Lucayan was crippled by Hurricane Matthew in 2016. 

ITM's expertise in land development will make it the lead in reviving the resort, while RCCL heads up the port improvements.

Bayley said those complementary strengths are one reason why the venture makes sense for both partners. In addition, as a privately owned company, ITM brings agility to the table, while publicly traded RCCL brings the attributes and capital advantages of that structure.

RCCL will keep its own port development group, which is engaged in multiple improvement projects around the world, including its new series of Private Day developments, which are exclusive to RCCL guests.

With both Private Day, which is expected to total five destinations, and Holistica, RCCL seems to be stepping up its port development activity even as it continues measured growth of its fleet.

ITM Group CEO Mauricio Hamui said the joint venture will emphasize ecological principles in its construction practices.

"A well-designed destination brings economic benefits to communities and cultural enrichment to travelers while creating the least possible disruption to the human and natural environment," he said. "There is a way to do these projects inclusively, collaboratively and sustainably, and those are the characteristics this new partnership is meant to embody."

For example, the Grand Lucayan project will include a local ownership component, job training, community investments and sustainable construction practices.

The companies said Holistica will also own and operate destinations in Costa Maya, Mexico; Roatan, Honduras; and Kumamoto, Japan. Other projects are under discussion.

The two firms collaborated on Puerto Costa Maya and in Roatan, where ITM bought a majority stake in RCCL's cruise port and added a shopping village with entertainment, a restaurant, bars and excursions.

By Tom Stieghorst - Travel Weekly | Jul 03, 2019

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