Regarding port fee increases, Royal Caribbean Group CEO wants 'reasonableness'

ABOARD THE CELEBRITY ASCENT — While some ports have announced plans to increase fees on cruise passengers on short notice, Royal Caribbean Group CEO Jason Liberty said his strategy has been to negotiate those fee increases with “a level of reasonableness.”  

The increased fees come as demand for cruising is on the upswing and recovered since the pandemic. Cruise executives have reported strong booked positions heading into 2024 and at higher prices. 

While on a two-day sailing of the new Celebrity Ascent that coasted near Grand Bahama Island, Liberty said he understands why port authorities are raising their fees.  

“Look, they’re dealing with inflation. They’re also dealing with labor challenges and so forth,” he said. “We believe heavily it’s an ecosystem. As we’re benefiting, they should be benefiting. Our travel partners should be benefiting,” he said. He added it’s important that “we’re all working together and [fee increases are] not coming up out of just thin air.” 

Ports Victoria is the latest port to introduce a fee increase. The port oversees operations in Melbourne, Australia, and officials said late last month its per-passenger fee would increase to $32, up from $28.50 on Jan. 1. The decision led Princess Cruises and Cunard to announce plans to boycott the port in 2025. 

Officials in the Bahamas also announced this year it would increase fees. After announcing in June it would boost per-passenger fees in July, negotiations with the cruise industry led to a partial delay of some of the fees until Jan. 1, 2024. A quick implementation of the fee makes it difficult for cruise lines to pass those costs on to passengers who have already booked their sailings. 

From left, Celebrity Ascent co-captains Tasos and Dimitris Kafetzis, Celebrity president Laura Hodges Bethge, Royal Caribbean Group CEO Jason Liberty, and RCG global communications officer Heather Hust Rivera.

Quintana Roo, which is home to the Cozumel and Costa Maya cruise ports, is considering imposing a $5-per-passenger cruise tax. The fee would go into effect in January 2025. 

Scotland’s government plans a cruise tax, with hopes to levy higher fees on cruise lines that emit the most pollutants. 

Anti-cruise sentiment

Asked about cities like Amsterdam, Barcelona and Venice that want cruise operations out of their city centers, Liberty said negative perceptions about cruises should be countered by better education.

For example, he said teaching people about scrubbers that remove CO2 emissions could help the public’s perception of cruise ships. “They think it’s emissions but it’s really water vapor that’s coming out. As we educate, a lot of those concerns abate themselves,” he said. 

Another Royal Caribbean Group strategy is diversifying deployments, which takes the pressure off cities concerned about too many cruise visitors, he said.

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