On 26 and 27 March, the Regional Meeting of the AIVP (Worldwide Network of Port Cities) took place in Pointe-à-Pitre, on the theme “Ports, growth drivers in the Caribbean“. By way of introduction, Guadeloupe’s business community underlined the importance of ongoing work to deepen the harbour access channel to 15 metres. As a European port in the Caribbean basin, Pointe-à-Pitre is keen to consolidate its geostrategic position between the growth markets of Latin America and the European Union.
The issue of regional integration and collaboration between the Caribbean states was a topic of much discussion, particularly after the initial results produced by Proyecto Mesoamerica were presented by its new Director General: Lidia Fromm Cea. The project is a political initiative involving most of the countries of Central America, which aims to strengthen collaboration between states and improve the economy to ensure greater prosperity for the local population. A network of 49 ports has been identified, while an ambitious project to promote short sea shipping through a sub-regional legal framework is also being looked at. In a similar approach, Yann Alix, Secretary General of the Fondation Sefacil, highlighted the benefits of integrating fragile island economies to help tackle international challenges. A sector-by-sector approach across the Caribbean basin could prove useful. Yves Salaün, Chairman of the Executive Board of Guadeloupe’s Grand Port Maritime, spoke about the importance of recognising the pitfalls of such an approach, since an island economy is not by definition a forum for free and undistorted competition. Any port investment in such an environment is particularly sensitive and strategic.
To illustrate these issues of cooperation between ports, the original experience of HAROPA was recounted in detail by its secretary general, Raynald Levillain. The collaborative integration of the three port authorities of Paris, Rouen and Le Havre is a process requiring a method, resources and a long-term strategic vision. It represents a possible source of inspiration for certain regional initiatives in the Caribbean.
Franc Pigna, of Miami-based port property advisors Aegir, underlined the vital importance of optimising ground rents under the supervision of the port authorities. Faced with modern infrastructure challenges, most Caribbean ports need to do more to capitalise on their land assets, to guarantee and diversify their revenue streams. Roger Rios Duarte, in charge of the PROCIP research programme in Costa Rica, explained how environmental and societal aspects have become crucially important. With protected natural areas making up a quarter of its territory, Costa Rica has committed to an integrated, inclusive approach reflected in the project to develop the port of Limon. Another essential component in the sustainable development of island economies is the cruise industry, and measures to integrate interfaces between cruise ships and the local population. The Sugar Point development in Bridgetown, Barbados, will see the city-port interface completely redesigned with the aim of promoting better interaction between cruise passengers and local residents. Scott Lagueux of LandDesign pointed out that the largest cruise ships now carry as many passengers as more than 16 Boeing 747s. A port like Saint-Martin can receive up to 50,000 visitors in a single day. This sheer scale requires corresponding investments in real estate, port facilities and leisure amenities, with all of the associated challenges in terms of financing and return on investment for the various public and private stakeholders. In projects of this kind, BOT (build-operate-transfer) and PPP (public-private partnerships) bring together public and private interests with local and international investors to design economic and financial models that are sustainable for all parties. Local consultation also has a driving role to play in projects throughout their lifespan, and it is vital for the local community to the prime beneficiary.
“Bringing magic” back to waterfronts to create attractive “spaces of experience” in complete safety: plans to redevelop the port-city interface in Havana were explained by the Cuban architect in charge of the project: Kiovet Sanchez Alvarez. The Cuban capital is home to a substantial UNESCO world heritage site protected by various laws and regulations, which it was vital to take into account from the very outset. The current projects are aimed at completely rethinking the way the historic port spaces are used and taking advantage of their position in Havana. A systemic approach has been adopted, focusing on historic, cultural, industrial and heritage infrastructures to create a vast space for residents, tourists and cruise passengers to discover. Echoing this presentation, the Port of Barcelona‘s situation was set out by Adolf Romagosa, Director General of Gerencia Urbanistica Port 2000. After briefly reminding delegates of Barcelona’s extensive expertise in the cruise industry, Adolf Romagosa was keen to highlight one key necessity: the port must remain a transit area for passengers. It is therefore in the port city’s best interests to ensure that the route taken by passengers from the ship to the city is organised in the best possible way. This does not coincide with the cruise operator’s commercial interests, but passenger habits are changing. With the advent of social networks and internet, more and more passengers are organising their own accommodation and activities at each stopover. Port cities need to keep up with these trends and continue to offer new services.
In another field, Michelle Hundley from The Economic Alliance Houston presented an initiative adopted in the Texan city that is founded on a holistic, community-based approach. A collection of working groups comprising citizens, elected representatives, public organisations and private businesses, The Economic Alliance Houston aims to promote the city and port of Houston both locally and globally. Young people and schoolchildren are taught about the port city’s different industries and specialties in a very pragmatic way, with information on how to get training, possible careers and potential salaries. It is a culturally North-American approach which is bearing fruit, and which could soon be emulated in other states and port cities.
By way of conclusion, this regional meeting was an opportunity to stress the dual importance for port authorities of assuming their economic role, while also anticipating societal and environmental issues in a rapidly changing, modernising Caribbean space. Discussions also went beyond speculation on the impact of the new locks in Panama, to touch on other issues such as streamlined customs procedures, common standards frameworks and cultural obstacles.
Yann Alix / Olivier Lemaire