No more incentives for cruise shipsD’Aguilar: We were paying for people who didn’t come off the boat
The government will no longer incentivize cruise ship companies to dock in The Bahamas, Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar revealed yesterday.
“In the past we used to provide incentives for cruise passengers to come here; but to be quite honest with you, we were paying for a lot of people who didn’t come off the boat. So we scrapped all those incentives, we don’t have any incentives anymore; we’re not paying any cruise line to bring any passengers here,” he told reporters outside the Churchill Building yesterday.
D’Aguilar complained that the government was paying out $12 million a year to provide incentives for cruise ships to bring passengers to The Bahamas, but passengers were not coming off the ships and spending money.
“I think they amounted to about $12 million a year, about $1 million a month, but over the years we have done away with most of the cruise ships and there was one cruise ship company that was left up to June 30, and so we decided to sit back, wait and see if it makes a difference and then review it, but it is not our intention at this time to offer incentives,” he said.
“The cruise companies are very, very profitable; they make a lot of money. Why are we paying them to bring cruise passengers to our port and then we’re finding that some of them are not coming off? So why are we giving incentives for people to come to Nassau and sit on the boat, eat their food and not spend money in our country?”
D’Aguilar said if a decision is made to provide incentives to cruise ships, it would be more of a rebate to cruise companies that is dependent on how many passengers disembark from their ships.
“It makes sense that, if we’re going to tie an incentive, it’s how many people come off the boat and how many people spend money in our country and then you get something back; just don’t bring them here and we give you something. We need to be more focused and more targeted in our incentives,” he said.
D’Aguilar’s comments came as he provided more details on the request for proposals (RFP) government published this week for the redevelopment and management of Prince George Dock.
Once submissions are in by the December 7 deadline, D’Aguilar confirmed that the government would review and decide on the proposals over the Christmas holiday period, with a goal of having the project start in 2019. He said the project would probably take 24 months.
With 91 cruise ships under construction by various cruise lines right now, D’Aguilar said The Bahamas’ concern is less about getting bodies to the port, and more about providing better experiences for cruise passengers when they visit.
“They should want to come here. There should be something wonderful for them to do here. If you think about it, God has geographically blessed The Bahamas. We are the closet port to the largest cruise ports in the world – Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Cape Canaveral. So if you’re going to go on a three-day cruise, you’re coming to Nassau or Freeport. So, I don’t think there needs to be incentives; this is where people want to come, we just have to make it a wonderful place for them to visit and make it memorable so that they want to come back here and it refreshes itself,” he said.
“Of course, when you put the port under a different management structure, there is going to be a dedicated management team focused on recreating, rebranding, upgrading, rebranding the offerings of the port all the time, in much the same way that it is happening at the Lynden Pindling International Airport, something that we’re all proud of.”
The minister admitted, however, that improving The Bahamas’ tourist offerings is a tough nut to crack.
“As you know a number of cruise ports have been damaged from hurricanes and there is a lot of reconstruction and upgrades going on throughout the Caribbean. You understand that there are bigger and better cruise ships coming on stream, so we need to adjust and accommodate and improve most importantly the customer experience here at the port, and provide additional opportunities for small businesses to make a decent living at that port,” he said.
“When we finish this redevelopment I’m hoping that more Bahamians can have businesses down there, so that they can benefit from the 3.6 million cruise passengers that come into this country. The goal is once this transformation has taken place, there will be a better offering of excursions, a better offering of goods, a better offering of food and beverage options, the cruise passengers will be minded – not only the cruise passengers, but also the crew – will be minded to come off the ships and spend more money in the port. So, I’m very excited that this process has started and we’ll see what happens.”