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Carnival sparks ‘elaborate approach’ in GB

Carnival Cruise Lines has committed to 70 additional stopovers in Freeport for 2012, Guardian Business can reveal, which is expected to stimulate investment in an economy searching for a spark.

A redevelopment of the Lucayan cruise facility is already underway, according to Derek Newbold, the commercial director at the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GPBA).

“Next year we are forecasting 320 cruise calls,” he told Guardian Business.

“That compares with around 250 last year and could result in up to one million tourists. Carnival has committed to the additional calls. The challenge here is encouraging the passengers coming into Grand Bahama to disembark.”

Under the current system, Newbold estimated that only 15-to-20 percent of passengers leave the ship in Freeport. The main reason for this, he said, is simply a lack of investors and businesses to handle the load and provide adequate services.

The GBPA director told Guardian Business that “we just need to get them off these vessels” to stimulate the local economy.

Newbold and his team are now actively courting prospective entrepreneurs at all levels to increase the capacity ahead of the tourism influx.

“It’s a major opportunity and that’s one of the reasons I have to take the initiative and put out a tour operating forum, planned for February of next year,” he revealed. “We have joined forces with the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association. There are opportunities to expand and to cater to the cruise sector.”

Peter Turnquest, the outgoing president of the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce, agreed that the main issue for the harbor is a lack of options for tourists.

“We need to get some activities going at the harbor or in and around town,” he said. “I think we’ll start to see some of that, now that more tourists appear to be coming.”

Historically, because Grand Bahama has suffered economically, it has been difficult to encourage investment on the island. Stakeholders often grapple with the issue of whether to invest to stimulate growth, or wait for the demand and then build.

The latter, for now, seems to be happening.

Newbold pointed out that Grand Bahama has long had the advantage of being so close to the U.S. compared to other islands in The Bahamas. For Carnival, it’s a cost efficient solution when it comes to fuel.

The GBPA director hinted that a number of redevelopments are “active and happening right now” in the harbor, although he could not provide further detail at this time. He said a number of new tenants will try to provide disembarking passengers with an experience in terms of bars, restaurants and shops to create a “festive atmosphere”.

Newbold also echoed Turnquest’s sentiments that access to capital remains a major challenge.

The GBPA is  in partnership with various entities, including the Caribbean Export Development Agency and the Bahamas Development Bank, to introduce business concepts and teach stakeholders to expand their businesses through access to grants.

He called the venture “an elaborate approach to improve the cruise sector”.

“When you look at the cruise sector, you have a captive market,” he said.

“If you can develop an interesting product, the chances of you succeeding are quite high. If you’re looking to be entrepreneurial minded, consider operating in tour operating.”

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