Cuban cruise King looks to his homeland


Frank de el Río, the King of cruisers, did not have nor seven years when he left Cuba. It was shortly after failing the U.S. invasion at “Bahia de Cochinos”, in 1961. Never again to visit the island for political reasons. Their two children and four grandchildren is not known. Although it says that it does not need to be there to put hands to work: has very clear will travel to his native country the same evening that the United States lift the embargo. You will first visit the House in which grew from child and then meet with those responsible for tourism and ports.

Del Rio is the CEO of Norwegian Cruise company, since end of January when it was announced that Kevin Sheehan gave him the helm of the group. It is evident that it is to lift the blockade as soon as possible. In fact, not it comes nothing good to head associated with the prohibition that prevents U.S. companies doing business in Cuba. In his opinion, became the right time to “make something new”.

Remember that it had a good childhood on the island. There, his father worked for Coca-Cola. But his family was against the Castro regime, so they looked for an escape route. On August 22, 1961 did the suitcases and migrated to USA. Upon reaching the border, immigration officials asked him to where they wanted to go. “My father pulled out a paper and told them: here”. It was the address of a few uncles who lived in New Britain (Connecticut).


Frank del Rio , CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line. / Mark Elias ( Bloomberg ) .


They carried only a suitcase each one, because they thought that the Castro would last little. During the first two months even went to school. “My school was in Havana, such as television and the bike.” It was a life that had as horizon the next day, in a telephone conversation with EL PAÍS. That stay lasted already more than half a century. “The nine year we just moving us to Miami because my parents feared that he had just married me with a Polish, this town is full of Poles,” he admits.

 After studying accounting at the University of Florida, Del Rio began to learn how to bring the business working for Certified Vacations, until he joined Renaissance Cruises in 1993. This went bankrupt following the slump in American tourists following the attacks of 09/11, but there learned that to be successful it is important to innovate and humanize the brand.

 The remains of Renaissance, River bought three boats for Oceania Cruises, the company which co-founded and where he is considered a creator of the so-called upper premium, a category between the mid-tier of the market and luxury cruisers. Oceania was the most brilliant success of the past 25 years in the sector. The proof is that you sold the majority of the capital to the Apollo Management Investment Fund for 850 million dollars, compared to seven million that had founded it three years before.

 When Apollo was done with Oceania, this had already been consolidated with another cruise line, Regent Seven Seas, Prestige Cruise international, where he was managing director Frank de el Río. In just two months, Apollo put him in charge of Norwegian, founded in 1966.

Del Rio is always thinking to offer something different, for the cruise experience is not trapped in the itineraries. Thus, for example, he looked toward the kitchen to make something different and made pineapple with the Chef Jacques Pépin. But as in the dressing of a plate, innovation must be fair. It also taught him that episode which may not be back to travel agents. “They are key to the health of the business, more than ever”, insists. Remember that 15 years ago it was thought that Internet would end up replacing all the intermediaries between the consumer and the companies offering the service.

 But, above all, he learned that there is not a substitute for honesty in the business world. “People can be in disagreement with you, but always respects you.” It is considered as one of the unfortunate aspects of success that is assumes that you can copy the competition. “People say to me that I should be proud”, points out, “but that boldness that have some to replicate is something that offends me greatly.”

 450 destinations

 Where there is an ocean, there is a boat. But the more than 250 cruise ships that ply the waters of the world, insists, are only an asset. “If you try to do the same to others, fail”, warns, “you have to struggle much to be chosen by the customer”. Norwegian controls approximately 10% of the business. It currently operates 22 ships, covering 430 tourist destinations. It is expected to Cuba soon among them.

 The Chief Executive of Norwegian retains decades later this instinct, naivety and resolution that characterizes the Cubans. “I remember many pleasant things from my childhood. I am not so clear if I miss least some things in Cuba. “It will be very rewarding to go back and watch it grow over the next two decades if finally lifting the embargo”. He believes that will be a few large players in the tourism industry.

 Frank De el Río has all the numbers very studied, and not only because his favorite dish is still the cubanisimos rice with beans and pork. View a great business opportunity ahead. “Cuba was created for cruisers,” says, “we just need water. We have the infrastructure with us”. The impact on the economy of the island, says, will be “immediate”. That Yes, supports you need in the field an adequate transport infrastructure to carry visitors ‘ unique treasures”.

 Havana, he says, could become easily over five years among the 10 largest destination ports next to Barcelona or Rome if large U.S. cruise companies could operate. Why you already have in your head a draft with a route that could open immediately, for 12 days of route. “Sure that our competitors have their own”, anticipates, as it recalls the beaches of Varadero that visited when he was a child.

 “We will be who will do catalysts, the first that we can help them to develop a new tourist industry and put them in the market economy,” he said. Cuba is the largest country in the Caribbean. Its entry into the global tourism business, according to Del Rio, will be so beneficial for all the cruise industry in the region, the most important in the world. “There will be a symbiotic relationship with the rest of the destinations”, anticipates.

Source: Cubanos Por El Mundo

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