PANAMA CITY, July 30 (Reuters) - Panama and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. agreed on Monday to make the Central American country the starting point for some of its tour operations in a bid to boost the cruise operator’s presence in the region.
The agreement could 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.
Adam Goldstein, Royal Caribbean’s (RCL.N) president, told Reuters that in the first year of operation, the Panama deal would represent around one percent of annual sales.
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.
The mega-class cruise liner “Enchantment of the Seas” will leave Colon, calling at ports in Colombia, Aruba and Curacao.
Panama’s vice-president Ruben Arosamena, who is responsible for maritime affairs, said the deal marked the beginning of a new industry for Panama.
Royal Caribbean operates 35 ships in Europe, North America, South America, but the bulk of the firm’s business comes from the Caribbean.
Panama’s economy grew a healthy 8.1 percent in 2006, lifted by increased trade, a construction boom, banking and shipping.