From HERITAGE to Feritage: How Economic Path Dependencies in the Caribbean Cruise Destinations Are Distorting the Uses of Heritage Architecture and Urban Form

  • Supersudaca
  • Sofia Saavedra BrunoEmail author
  • Martin Delgado
  • Felix Madrazo
Open Access


The creation of new heritage at Splashdowncentre Grand Turk: commemorating the splashdown of the Friendship 7 capsule off the island’s coast in 1962, Supersudaca, released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

While the impact of cruise shipping is largely mitigated by the consolidated and diverse economies of port cities, such as Hamburg, Tokyo, and Seattle, it is a key issue in the current transformation of the Caribbean cruise destinations that increasingly depend on tourism. This chapter illustrates how cruise tourism has triggered spatial and sociocultural changes in urban form and architectural heritage in the Caribbean region. It argues that those transformations fall into a path dependency thread, and that we are at a critical juncture whose stakes include the risk that cruise lines might soon just leave heritage sites altogether. The chapter also gives a broader reading of the contemporary modes of cruise tourism exploitation. The “Introduction” describes how previous economic dependencies shaped and conditioned the built heritage (urban form, urban function, and heritage architecture) of Caribbean port cities and how spatial relationships of port, city, and hinterland ultimately followed the spatial logics of colonial exploitation. It describes how this historically established (hence path-dependent) economical patterns are still visible in the current operating modes of cruise tourism in the region. The section “How Historical Political and Socio-economic Dependencies Shaped Both Caribbean Port City Heritage and Current Operating Modes of Cruise Tourism” describes the role of heritage architecture of port cities, in the context of cruise lines’ economic interests. The section “Heritage Architecture of Caribbean Cities and Cruise Lines’ Economic Interests” looks more specifically at how the cruise lines’ original interest in heritage preceded their actual disinterest. If the cruise lines were the first actors to add economic value to Caribbean heritage, the Caribbean cruise experience now sidesteps—if not actually fakes—local culture, cities, and economy.


Path dependency Cruise tourism Heritage Caribbean Cruise impact Destination Destination resilience Economic lock-in Expenditures Economic benefits Spatial economics Socio-spatial impact Waterfronts 


Since the early sixteenth century, economic considerations have influenced the built heritage of Caribbean port cities. The similarity of the colonial exploitation model and the current operating modes of cruise tourism unveils how historical patterns are repeated in new forms and the essence of power relations—in which the main economic decisions are still in the hands of foreign investors—remains identical. We coined the pun feritage to show simultaneously how contemporary Caribbean cruise destinations are distorting the uses of heritage architecture while resembling spatial and economic practices of colonial times. The title of the paper feritage is a reference to the ongoing deformation of the use of heritage for the purposes of the cruise industry. For example, the constant improvements of replicas are challenging what local tourist boards considered essential and irreplaceable for the tourist purpose of visit: to experience authentic places.

Cruise ship tourism is one of the fastest growing and most stable industries (Rodrigue et al. 2013; Rodrigue and Notteboom 2013), and the landside tourism it generates has transformed urban form, urban function, and heritage architecture around the world (Hein 2013, 2016). Scholarly research on cruise tourism has nevertheless focused on isolated aspects of the cruise industry, notably economics, or on the need for tourist-geared adaptation of the historic built environment and the port facilities; it has not engaged with heritage debates (McCalla 1998; Vaggelas and Pallis 2010; Gui and Russo 2011). In turn, most literature that does explore cruise tourism and heritage is focused on preserving these values in the face of increasing economic pressures (Avrami 2013). The relationship between (cruise) tourism and cultural heritage values of local communities is only starting to be looked at by academics, including Hein (2016) and more briefly Epler Wood (2017). The sociocultural challenges that cruise lines bring to the shores of their destinations and attempts to formulate planning solutions have only recently been explored (Epler Wood 2017). But locals comment strongly and express concern on the impact of cruise shipping on heritage values of local communities, notably in the media. Venice and Barcelona have been at the forefront of recent protests against cruise tourism (Corcoran 2017; Coldwell 2017). Social media has also covered and commented on these protests, but those conversations have yet to be studied.

Dowling (2006) probably offers the most comprehensive overview of academic work on cruise shipping, but the stress in such studies on the industry rather than its destinations is remarkable. A range of significant studies on destination evolution under the influence of tourism (Saarinen 2004; Jaakson 2004) identifies the area in the port visited by tourists as a “tourist bubble” (Jaackson 2004) consisting of a core and a periphery. Nonetheless, a need remains for a more comprehensive investigation of the effects of cruise shipping on historical urban areas (Hein and Hillmann 2013, 2016), and of the transformative effect of the cruise industry on the spatial relations between city, port, and hinterland (Weaver 1993). Through various research formats, our research group of architects and planners, Supersudaca (Sudaca is a pejorative term among Spanish people for a Latin American), has investigated the impact of the latest business model of cruise tourism and the spatial relation between city, port, and hinterland in the Caribbean (Saavedra Bruno 2007; Supersudaca 2014); more recently, Supersudaca was asked to advise the government of Turks and Caicos (Saavedra Bruno et al. 2017). In our report, we aimed to unveil the mechanisms behind the changing spatial relationship of the cruise pier with the urban territory as a dynamic relation of interdependence between local and foreign actors; we concluded that new policies are needed to improve and integrate cruise shipping with the local population and their economy. Meanwhile, heritage remains sidelined by strategic positioning of the pier far from the historic center. Yet the role of tourism and heritage within the larger relationships between actors has not yet been investigated. In this chapter, we explore how heritage debates today play out in discussions on cruise ships on the Caribbean Waterfronts.

Over the last twenty years, some of these debates have created a distinctive power balance in which policymakers and planners focus on the economic side of the cruise ship industry and consider urban form and heritage architecture only as supporting elements of the tourist offer instead of seeing heritage as an integral part of the cultural values of the local population. The dominant discourse often adopts a short-term perspective that supports this approach, mainly looking at tourist arrivals and expenditures, leaving aside local actors, their agendas, their interest in urban form and heritage, and their specific identity concerns. But the complex interaction of (cruise) shipping with port, city, and hinterland requires a multifaceted approach that acknowledges long-term development (Hein 2016).

With scholars of historical institutionalism, we argue that the current model of cruise tourism contains a pattern of historical development with trajectories that are inherently difficult to reverse, so-called path dependencies (Hacker 2002; Pierson 2004; Mahoney and Thelen 2010; Sorensen 2015). The decision points during which new institutional configurations are established and new developmental trajectories are launched—usually referred to as “critical junctures”—are crucial to the future direction of each destination (Collier and Collier 1991; Capoccia and Kelemen 2007). In line with Musterd (2012), we propose that city region’s attraction to the creative sectors and their potential economic development is influenced by the path of historical developments. Using the concept of path dependence theory and including the built environment as another actor, we analyze the influence of cruise shipping on the development and architectural heritage preservation of port cities in the Caribbean islands.

How Historical Political and Socioeconomic Dependencies Shaped Both Caribbean Port City Heritage and Current Operating Modes of Cruise Tourism

Historical political and socioeconomic dependencies shaped Caribbean port city heritage—both urban form and architectural production—in ways that are still visible in the current operating modes of cruise tourism. This is in part due to the continuation or resurgence of geopolitical structures of the past, but perhaps more interesting is the current relevance of spatial strategies for the cruise industry from that distant past that had as its primary objective the control of flows of capital in the Caribbean. Cruise tourism in Caribbean port cities relies on principles of mercantilism and monopoly control that were normal practice in the region in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (see Map 19.1).
Map 19.1

Commercialization 1492–1798.

Source Supersudaca, Al Caribe research with auspices of Prince Claus Fund; released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

What we perceive as the oldest heritage now represents, sometimes in diagrammatic clarity, the economic and cultural policies intended to create an urban system that facilitated trade, security, and stability. Furthermore, the spatial configuration of Caribbean port cities—their grid systems and fortifications—expresses how the market did not allow competition from other places. Culturally, port cities appeared to be neutral spaces but a closer look reveals that they were highly hierarchical, pushing local indigenous populations to the fringes of the system. Emerging models of tourism today echo several of these dynamics.

The mostly European built heritage of the Caribbean islands dates to the beginning of the sixteenth century. This legacy is closely interrelated with the history and interests of the colonial exploitation of the region. The colonization model follows a pattern of discovery and conquest, after which colonizers identified resources to exploit, and, depending on their importance, protect them militarily with city fortifications and (later) force on the high sea. More specifically, once colonizers had discovered a new place, they founded a city: distributing land among conquistadores, building up the infrastructure of extraction, organizing and distributing forced labor, and setting up the logistics of trade to bring the products of exploitation back to the metropole. The model involved the private sector, with strong support and guidance from the state, paralleling today’s private–public partnerships to some extent. The newly founded cities might then grow or collapse, depending on the presence and quantity of metal and available labor.

In general, the first phase of Spanish colonization lasted from 1492 until the conquest of Mexico in 1520 and Peru in 1532 (Williamson 1972). The discovery of vast reserves of silver and gold in Mexico and Peru meant drastic change for Caribbean islands and ports, which had to refocus their economies on other activities, such as sugar and tobacco production. As Caribbean port cities became key nodes of logistic trade, bringing precious metals to Europe and importing European products to the colonizers (Lockhart and Schwartz 1983), they accumulated treasures themselves and became more attractive to pirates. This all pushed port cities into a new phase of vulnerability at the end of the sixteenth century. The most drastic change of this phase came in the seventeenth century, after the conformation of the Triple Alliance of 1596 between France, England and the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. The Treaty of The Hague recognized the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands for the first time, and it implied a common enemy in the Caribbean: Spain. Not long after the French, Dutch, and English too began to claim territory and establish plantations in the region.

From a spatial point of view, the built heritage of several Caribbean port cities corresponds to that of a fortress, most filled with gridded streets. Yet most of these locations did not have fortifications in the first decades of conquest. San Juan de Puerto Rico is a clear example of this, being an open, unwalled city for 130 years and based on an old reference to Plato’s disdain for walled cities (Pabón-Charneco 2016). Historically, before the Spanish conquest of America, the port cities of Canary Islands were open structures, that is, unwalled ports promoting a message of free trade in a harbor city. Leonardo Torriani, a sixteenth-century Italian naval engineer, described San Cristobal de La Laguna in Gran Canaria, San Juan’s most prominent precedent, as “a city made from peace for peace. No fortresses and no walls” (Pabón-Charneco 2016). The now so-called Ciudad de La Paz (City of Peace), also known as Ciudad Maritima (Maritime City) was characterized by the presence of a main square facing the sea (Plaza del Mar), which a grid linked to the main square (plaza mayor) containing the main civic buildings and the church. Later, the Spanish conquistadors used this grid to lay out their new open city, probably for reasons of speed, order, and the availability of rudimentary tools such as cord and ruler (Hardoy 1975; Morris 1994; Lejeune 2005).

The system of colonization moved from a standard strategy of founding cities to one of specializing ports. This had to do more with central planning of the region from Spain rather than with local demands. Ports that dealt with export–import duties to Spain had their duties drastically reduced to single tasks: Veracruz became the ancillary port of Mexico City that controlled the flows of silver from Mexico; Nombre de Dios (also known as Portobelo) in the Panama isthmus controlled the resources (mainly metals) coming from Peru by way of the Pacific Ocean; Cartagena de Indias (now Colombia) served as a stopping point for refueling ships and eventually a hub for trading slaves from Africa. Havana meanwhile was the port where ships coming from Peru and Mexico joined the Spanish naval escort to return to Spain (Williamson 1972). Some ports suffered from this re-configuration: San Juan and Santo Domingo for instance lost some or most of their early importance.

The Ciudades de La Paz model was eventually tested by Spain’s enemies. British, French, and later Dutch pirates damaged key ports. In 1572, Sir Francis Drake attacked Portobelo; in a turning point in the politics of city defense (Williamson 1972), the Spanish king Philip II responded by commissioning an engineer specialized in fortifications, Battista Antonelli, to improve the security of Portobelo and other key cities, especially of those ports on the main route of import-export monopoly known as the Carrera de Indias: Cartagena, San Juan de Ulua, Havana, and San Juan in Puerto Rico (Williamson 1972). Thus the built heritage in the Caribbean port cities has historically been a product of the Spaniards, who designed cities first to maximize speed of construction and the efficiency of water trade and later for defense and customs.

Today that same heritage is being recycled to maximize cruise tourism, another product of foreign exploitation. Although the theory of path dependency normally refers to a continuous sequence of events, it is worth noting the similarities between these two phases, colonial exploitation and cruise tourism, despite the time that separates them. In colonial times, most of the economies of the Caribbean relied mainly on a single form of exploitation at the regional scale, protected by the monopoly of the market regulated by the Spanish crown through its Casa de Contratación, fortress architecture, and naval escort. The relatively recent emergence of tourism in the Caribbean as the main source of the economy also offers one type of product for the region (see Map 19.2). Recent cruise centers in a few Caribbean destinations strikingly recall the fortress strategies of colonial times, and like them are aimed at maximizing control of the economic benefits of the enterprise.
Map 19.2

Tourism dependency Caribbean, flights and cruise itineraries.

Source Supersudaca, Al Caribe research with auspices of Prince Claus Fund; released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

At the same time, it is important to observe the differences between these histories. Tourism differs from mining and sugar industries, with many more economic sectors affecting the business. Cruise tourism is what scholars call a vertical industry, in which giant companies control several sectors of the economy (Supersudaca 2006; Sweenay 2002). That means that we are not talking of monopolistic control of one product but of intensive concentration and deformation of the market by few companies. Flows and success or failures of port cities related to cruise tourism are linked to the decisions of foreign-controlled industries, mainly located in Florida. The majority of cruises sail to the Caribbean and serve a primarily North American market, but not a single ship that cruises the Caribbean is Caribbean-owned or for that matter US-owned. Company headquarters are often on US soil, but to avoid taxation most companies sidestep US incorporation and go offshore. Carnival (#1 in terms of market share), which owns Holland America Line (#4), is incorporated in Panama; Royal Caribbean (#2) is “based” in Liberia; and Norwegian Cruise Line (#3) is registered with the Genting Group in Malaysia. It’s a matter of economics for the host countries as much as for the cruise companies (Supersudaca 2014). As journalist Elizabeth Becker noted, “during its two-decades-long civil war, Liberia earned at least $20 million every year by acting as the offshore registry for foreign ships” (Becker 2013: 140). Thus historical patterns returned in new forms while the essence of actor power relation remains identical: The main economic decisions are still in hands of foreign investors, whose interest might prevail above local agendas of preservation.

Two foreign-owned cruise lines, each formed by multiple associated brands, monopolize the Caribbean cruise market. Together they hold 70% of the world market share (Sprague-Silgado 2017), and their turnover sometimes triples the GDP of local Caribbean countries. Their power to stabilize economic dynamics in the long run can be termed economic lock-in. As in colonial times, the benefits for the region are clearly not the foreign investors’ priority. Although the Caribbean islands are the most active cruise tourist region of the world, the revenues do not correspond to the size of the business. A 2004 report from World Travel and Tourism Council stated that “Given that the Caribbean attracts around 50% of the world cruise market, its contribution to overall tourism earnings for the region is nonetheless relatively insignificant—accounting for between 8 and 10% of international tourism receipts only” (p. 23). Cruise tourists constituted about 42% of all tourists to the Caribbean in 2000, yet the same report stated that they accounted for only 12% of overall tourist expenditures. Nor is the news always good for all destinations. As competition increases so do the problems of growth. Continuous growth of the industry does not automatically guarantee success for all players.

Against the criticism of scarce economic benefits for the region, the report makes the argument that cruise tourism “presents destinations with the opportunity to convert cruise visitors (many of whom admit to being on a familiarization tour of the Caribbean) into future stay over tourists.” It calls for “further research as to market perceptions of the two products (cruise and land base tourism), the degree of direct competition and demand substitution between them, and the extent of conversion to stay over visit” (p. 65). But the theory of conversion goes against the current trend of tourists spending less time on shore, which diminishes the chances of the destination to promote itself. Besides cruise lines are controlling shore excursions more and more, as “another source of income for the cruise industry that provide solid revenue for the cruise line in form of sales commission” (Ross 2013, p. 47). The waterfronts and ports catering to mass tourism from the cruise industry are becoming a product controlled by the cruise tourist industry that with its “status as a single sector economy raises the spectre of future regional ruination” (Brouderet al. 2016, p. 03).

Cruise ships are always becoming bigger “floating theme parks” (Wood 2000, p. 358), requiring ports of call to invest more and more money to build, maintain, and modernize big piers. When some Caribbean ports are unable to afford these ballooning expenses, tour operators look elsewhere for destinations that can meet burgeoning demand or they negotiate anchoring fees down to meager sums. In some cases, cruise companies share responsibility and investment for upgrading infrastructure with local partners. In other—more profitable—cases, they develop, manage, and operate ports themselves. Cruise line operators now sometimes work like infrastructure banks, offering loans to governments at local destinations to fund cruise-based infrastructure projects. In 2007, Carnival Corporation PLC and St Maarten signed a $34.5 million agreement for the enlargement of their pier, anticipating that bigger ships will revive the tourist economy in the British Virgin Islands. The loans are calculated based on the head taxes that the governments receive from the flow of cruise tourists. With growing congestion in the Caribbean and stiff competition from emerging economies worldwide, a port unable to upgrade can face abandonment. This threat leaves ports paralyzed: Investing large sums of money to upgrade facilities only risks subsequent obsolescence, but not upgrading means no business at all. (Supersudaca 2014) Once again, as in colonial times, the control of the demand and supply is in foreign hands, but the destinations have no choice: “upgrade their piers or die” (Supersudaca 2014, p. 20).

Heritage Architecture of Caribbean Cities and Cruise Lines’ Economic Interests

Since cruise ship tourism depends on heritage, the first actors that were interested in heritage conservation were the cruise industries. Therefore, the preservation strategies for heritage buildings and urban spaces play a major role in marketing the Caribbean islands and are closely related to the attractiveness of the cruise ship industry. In Curacao, for example, the world-famous Dutch canal house—style facades of the waterfront street, the Handelskade, have always attracted cruise tourists, but on the other hand, the Curacao Government learned from a marketing study that their city should appeal to what the tourists have in mind for a “Caribbean” location. They planted palm trees along the public areas near the terminal—but those palm trees are not actually indigenous species of the island, so the government is importing them from Cuba, as payment on an earlier debt. The supposedly Caribbean landscaping of the passage that guides the cruise tourists into the shopping district has led to the “situation that on the same square (Brionplein) two sorts of lamps are used: those paid for by the tourist industry along the path of the cruise tourists and the old and the less kitschy public lamps that remain standing on the square”—all this reflects the absence coordination among the local tourism and planning authorities (Saavedra Bruno 2007, p. 106).

Some of the shops on St Maarten’s Front Street literally turned their orientation 180° to face a new walking boulevard for cruise tourists, reorienting urban form; at the same time, when four cruise ships in St Maarten simultaneously unload, their 10,000 passengers instantly cause a traffic jam (Saavedra Bruno 2007, p. 104). In Curacao, the design of public space guides the cruise tourists carefully from the Megapier through a shopping center onto the “swinging old lady” bridge to Punda, the old city center that is now full of luxury duty-free shops. This route literally turns its face away from the main shopping street for locals in Otrabanda, whose “shopkeepers have always expressed that they want to keep orienting themselves to the local client, considering it a more stable factor” (Saavedra Bruno 2007, p. 104).

At first, the interest of the cruise industry in heritage was not only ethical but economically driven, therefore more stable. Yet recent cases point in a different direction, indicating that the cruise industry is comparing the costs and benefits of this model to those of a new model of total control in which they fabricate “heritage” assets elsewhere, preferably far from the city and authentic heritage (see Photo 19.1a, b).
Photo 19.1

Cruise center Costa Maya.

Source Supersudaca, Al Caribe research with auspices of Prince Claus Fund; released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

The cruise lines have constructed cruise line-owned shopping destinations in no-man’s-lands and leased (or sometimes bought) beaches, creating tourist bubbles (Jaakson 2004) disconnected from actual heritage sites, real cities, and local lives. According to Caroline Cheong, a Ph.D. candidate in planning and geography writing for the World Monument Fund in the Charleston report, “port communities may be more predisposed to commodify their heritage for tourists given the concentration of tourist activity and the revenues generated in the “tourist bubble”. She quotes Wood (2000), noting that increased interaction between visitors and local communities furthers “processes of globalization and homogenization,” processes that according to Cheong “are sped up within the host community when the number of visitors exceeds that of the local community, a process that Brida (2010) and the UNWTO (2010) note is especially prevalent in the Caribbean” (Cheong 2013, p. 29).
Photo 19.2

Port of Call Costa Maya.

Source Supersudaca. Al Caribe research with auspices of Prince Claus Fund

In some isolated islands of the Caribbean, the population spikes in the high season. Cockburn Town, in the Turks Islands, for example, quintuples during peak cruise season, with neither conflict nor negotiation (Supersudaca 2014, p. 22). If the main attraction was first heritage sites, it then became itineraries and ports and later the ship itself in combination with beach and water-related activities, often on leased islands in the middle of nowhere. Yet, according to Cheong, despite cruise lines’ separate shopping and beach areas for their passengers, “real heritage sites remain a main attraction for cruise tourists” (Cheong 2013, p. 27). Nonetheless, she notes, “though cruise itineraries and ports of call remain main motivators for cruise travelers (CLIA 2006; Andriotis and Agiomirgianakis 2010)—acknowledging the need to provide satisfactory offshore experiences—the literature indicates that there is a summer-driven shift toward the ship itself acting as the primary attraction” (Cheong 2013, p. 124). Our recent analysis of Caribbean excursions on shore reveals that this tendency goes hand in hand with the tendency that most current excursions ashore in the Caribbean region focus on water and the beach rather than heritage (see Fig. 19.1).
Fig. 19.1

Type of excursion on shore.

Source Supersudaca recent research 2017; released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

Contemporary Modes of Cruise Tourism in the Caribbean and their Impact on the Heritage of Caribbean Port Cities and their Hinterland

It is hard to shake the impression that cruise ships have become entirely self-sufficient. The exponential increase in ship sizes has turned into a metaphor for the cockiness of the cruise industry: The bigger the boats, the less the companies seem to care about the quality, variety, or authenticity of destinations. If cruising in the Caribbean not long ago meant wandering old colonial cities like San Juan, walking beach promenades in Cozumel, buying goods near the pier, or having a taste of local cuisine of Santo Domingo, the latest cruise development has tended to diminish the importance of destination-specific values.

As cruise companies have succeeded in engineering a diversity of life on board, they call into question the relevance of destinations. The plurality, potential insecurity, and lack of guarantees in real places surely overshadowed any advantage they might offer. In places such as Cozumel, where tourists still are able to reach the local shops, cruise directors warn passengers to avoid the uncertified and unsafe shops of the locals. It even seems that ships could just stop anchoring at local nodes.

One apparently insignificant shift is actually a crucial move changing the role of destinations in the power game of tourist spatial economics. Originally, the pier was the extension of the local economy of a touristic destination. As the extension of the touristic destination, the cruise pier had to lead tourists carefully to the destination charms, seducing then to spend as much time and money as possible in locally owned shops during their short stay. As the cruise industry is now financing, building, and deciding the position of new piers, “the piers have today become extensions of ships” (supersudaca 2014, p. 18).

The dominant new model for handling cruise tourism ashore is to provide a fenced bus terminal and a shopping area attached to the cruise pier, sometimes far from the city or on an unexploited island. This cruise village immediately attached to the cruise pier is providing leisure and (often cruise line owned) shopping wrapped up in duplicates of historical villages, divorced from existing cities and their economies (see Fig. 19.2).
Fig. 19.2

From inner-city pier to tourist bubble.

Source Supersudaca, Al Caribe research with auspices of Prince Claus Fund; released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

With the new piers increasingly far from historic destinations, the tourist has fewer options to venture into town (and they run the risk of not catching the cruise when it departs). It is easier and easier to stay on the secure grounds of the new ports of call that are under industry control. It is estimated that “at each arrival of the boat to the port, 15% of the passengers never leave the cruise ship” (Lems 2010, p. 51). But this move could not be completed without a revolution on the ship itself. The transformation of the boat has been so massive that many tourists now decide that destinations are less crucial to their experience than in the past.

As ships grew, they “decreased dependence of the ports of call as the ship itself has become the destination” (Wood 2000, p. 358). This has enabled cruise lines to maximize their benefits for the cruise industry. The only remaining role of real places is fulfilling the few tourist wishes unattainable on the boat: authentic experiences of a tropical colonial city, pre-Hispanic archaeological ruins, and an unspoiled beach. Even this remaining niche is now also being contested by the cruise industries that are creating “fantasyscapes on board and on land” (Wood 2000, p. 361). Colonial port destinations where the cruise industry is a big lobby, such as Curacao, control the routing of tourists in a nearly perfectly orchestrated choreography; and to “some extent Caribbean destinations are imitating the cruise ships, introducing theming in port city landscapes (such as in Aruba, whose main street feels very much as a theme park) and creating manmade, artificial attractions, divorced from the geographical environment as in St Maarten” (Wood 2000, p. 363). To meet tourists’ demand for exotic architecture, the cruise industry has built a place called “Costa Maya” from scratch and in the middle of nowhere (see Photo 1, Photo 2). It includes a shopping area and restaurants in neo-Mayan style, owned and operated by the industry, while a plaster church tower recalls Spanish colonial times. Fake “stone sculptures and Indian dancers on the shopping plaza recall Mayan culture” (Sofia Saavedra Bruno 2007, p. 106). Not only did Grand Turk promote a replica of the Nasa Friendship 7 capsule, which splashed into the Atlantic in 1962 a few short miles from the island, as one of the island’s main excursion attractions on land, but it copied it again when it built the Grand Turk cruise terminal and center. To a significant degree, Wood points out, by extending “the fantasy environment of the ship” the ports also “reproduce in new form the enclave development long characteristic of the region” (Wood 2000, p. 363). Furthering this tendency, the Caribbean region has been a laboratory since the 1970s for the development of all-inclusive resorts, a world parallel to the cities where the locals live.

Ports of call like Curacao and Aruba, where the tourists can walk directly from the terminal into the old city center, became quite exceptional in the Caribbean. When mapping the cruise terminals and their direct surroundings, we found that “most emerging cruise terminals are situated several kilometers away from the closest inner city (see Fig. 19.3)” (Saavedra Bruno 2007, p. 106). But in order to get the local beach environment that tourists demand, one of the last remaining niche for destinations, “cruise lines are also reducing the days in port by buying, or leasing islands or by anchoring at a deserted stretch of beach” (Wood 2000, p. 361). Of the eight major lines that now operate in the Caribbean, 10 own private islands (Supersudaca 2014, p. 18). Royal Caribbean owns Coco Cay in Bahamas, for example, and leases Labadee in Haiti—which they tell tourists is Fantasy Island, in order to not spoil their holidays (Patullo 1996, p. 164)
Fig. 19.3

Distance from the historic center.

Source Supersudaca, Al Caribe research with auspices of Prince Claus Fund; released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

As cruise companies have developed and refined their business models, they have affected the spatial relation between the city, port, and hinterland by strategically positioning docks in new places outside the old city. Their new constructions and new uses affect the historic spatial development of both urban form and heritage (local identity). But neither public actors—local politicians, tourist agencies, planners, heritage actors—nor citizens themselves have been involved in the ongoing transformation.


Cruise tourism has rewritten the urban form and architectural heritage of the Caribbean region and their functions in the last 20 years with urban form thematization (often disneyfication of the historic inner cities, including waterfronts) and simulations of historic ports. We have analyzed how the most recent cruise business model has affected both urban form and heritage architecture by (1) strategically positioning docking at new places outside of the old city or in the middle of nowhere, (2) reproducing heritage architecture, objects, and landscapes in replicas and simulations, and (3) recodifying heritage to suit the demands of the tourists and to exclude local economies.

The rapid growth of the cruise industry and its concentration in a few companies has established distinctive power relationships between the cruise industry and Caribbean governments. We understand that this emerging dynamics follow path dependencies (Hacker 2002; Pierson 2004; Mahoney and Thelen 2010; Sorensen 2015), so what now seems like a dynamic process could actually be heading toward a static relationship among the key actors over time, making change increasingly difficult. As Capoccia and Kelemen have argued, “long periods of path dependent institutional stability and reproduction are punctuated occasionally by brief phases of institutional flux—referred to as critical junctures - during which more dramatic change is possible” (Capoccia and Kelemen 2007, p. 341).

We are currently at such a “critical juncture,” in which local actors and heritage institutions can both prevent the cruise lines from seizing complete control of heritage areas while simultaneously luring them to stay in heritage sites (and not abandon them altogether). Caribbean governments are increasingly recognizing the role that heritage plays in attracting cruise tourists and the role that cruise tourism could play in preserving heritage and making it valuable in the future. In Havana, for example, the government has increasingly tied the renewal of the waterfronts to cruise tourism. A new port has taken over large-scale transport activities, leaving behind the historic port, which is being redeveloped primarily for cruise tourism. That process had already started, but the recent political opening of Cuba has accelerated it (INTI 2015, p. 24). Similarly, according to the Winning the Future report (Croes 2011) Aruba has recently recognized the power of cruise tourism and has decided to invest part of the revenues from it directly into preserving heritage. The cruise lines are often behind the scenes, still deciding where that money is being invested. The government of Grand Turk, for example, planned to use revenues from cruise tourism to turn an old building in the historic center into Carnival’s welcoming cruise center, but the cruise line would not use it without the guarantee that cruise revenues on the other side of the island would be high enough (Saavedra Bruno et al. 2017, p. 45).

Cruise tourism triggers new institutional configurations in Caribbean cruise destinations, including collaboration between heritage and water-related planning institutions to ensure the future of historic port cities and to keep inherited patterns from further distorting uses of heritage architecture and urban form.


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Supersudaca
    • 1
  • Sofia Saavedra Bruno
    • 1
    Email author
  • Martin Delgado
    • 1
  • Felix Madrazo
    • 1
  1. 1.RotterdamThe Netherlands

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