Front Porch | Taking full advantage of cruise ship tourism
We are embarked on a new era for cruise ship tourism in The Bahamas. Some of the old thinking on the cruise sector is changing because of evolving market realities spurred by the geographical advantages of the country.
The Bahamas archipelago boasts a variety of destinations within a single jurisdiction, including Nassau and Freeport, two populous cities, with port and other infrastructure facilities to receive significant numbers of cruise passengers.
Because of our proximity to Florida, cruise lines enter Bahamian waters much quicker than they are able to arrive at other ports in the region. This also provides a savings to cruise lines in terms of fuel, supplies and other costs.
Former Tourism Minister Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace notes that The Bahamas should dominate the short cruise vacation business from the United States.
The Bahamas offers the potential of private cays with Robinson Crusoe-like experiences, though the development of such cays should be quite limited.
Moreover, in order for a cruise line to offer such an experience, a ship docking near such a cay must be required to also visit either Freeport or Nassau.
The cruise lines understand the economic benefits of cruising in The Bahamas, including Bahamas-only cruises, which reportedly account for at least half or more of cruises to the country.
Because of the advantage The Bahamas offers, cruise lines are investing in infrastructural developments for their customers.
This includes the new Disney private cay off southern Eleuthera and the construction of the new Carnival Line port facility at Sharp Rock near Freeport, which will create many new jobs during construction and long term.
A press statement by the government on the Disney facility stated: “Some of the core elements of the Disney Cruise Lines Island Development Ltd. proposal which are of fundamental importance and to which Disney is committed, include: low density development and sustainable design, public access, and the restoration of various historical and cultural sites.
“The development will create approximately 150 new jobs and an array of entrepreneurial opportunities for residents of Eleuthera and Bahamians in general.”
The release also noted: “Disney will convey approximately 190 acres of the land purchased from the private seller to the government of The Bahamas for conservation and a national park.
“Other elements of the project include: the integration of Bahamian cultural and artistic expression into the design of the site and experiences offered, and partnership with the community to develop training and professional development programs.”
A former minister of tourism, who often complained about the fly-by-night nature and arrogance of cruise lines, thinks that the new infrastructural developments by the companies indicate they are in The Bahamas for the long term.
He stresses that the benefits which they receive from The Bahamas by way of geographical advantages and other benefits must come with greater leverage and stipulations by the Bahamian government on cruise lines.
Traditionally, the cruise lines have often acted with arrogance and condescension, typically utilizing a strategy to divide and conquer Caribbean jurisdictions.
They often greedily asked for a seemingly never-ending slew of concessions as if they were doing The Bahamas a favor by cruising our waters.
The Bahamas must press certain demands, including more overnight stays and other concessions of which cruise lines often balked. We must also press stricter environmental guidelines and ensure high health and safety standards.
To improve the Nassau and Freeport destinations the country has to move on multiple fronts. Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham understood the imperative of deepening Nassau Harbour to take greater advantage of new cruise ships entering the market.
He wisely ignored the often inane objections of certain opposition figures, who were also prone to object for the purpose of objection, a penchant still practiced by some of those very figures, including some who bitterly objected to Sol Kerzner’s development of Atlantis, Paradise Island.
With the proposed new port facilities on Nassau and Grand Bahama, the country is moving to take greater advantage of the cruise business, which can potentially supply the country with significantly more tourism receipts for individuals, businesses and the government.
It is not an either/or proposition between stopover and cruise visitors. It is about getting the mix right and earning even greater revenue from both, especially for Bahamians, including greater Bahamian ownership of facilities, products, services and experiences.
The notion that enhanced facilities and experiences for passengers on Grand Bahama will decrease the number of passengers to Nassau is an ignorant and unfounded assessment glibly parroted by some who do not appreciate the nature and untapped potential of the sector.
Also often overlooked is the need to provide more spending opportunities for the thousands of cruise ship staff who visit the country with the arrival of each ship.
Last year, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (RCCL) President and CEO Michael Bayley stressed that The Bahamas needed to improve cruise passenger spending by offering more experiences and products onshore.
In his recent national report, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis noted potential new ventures by Bahamian enterprises.
“There are also a number of large-scale New Providence-based Bahamian-owned tourism projects, which include Paradise Island Lighthouse and Beach Club, Athol Island Entertainment Facility, and the Heritage Tourism Project,” the prime minister said.
“The owners of the Heritage Tourism Project are a group of Bahamian businessmen. Their objective is upgrading and operating several historical sites, transforming them into major attractions for the Bahamians and the international tourism market. This represents greater Bahamian ownership in the tourism sector.
“This promises to be a significant advancement in promoting Bahamian culture and heritage as a part of our enhanced visitor experience and tourism product.”
A recent report in this journal outlined a proposed development for Freeport that will help to revitalize Grand Bahama and boost tourism revenue with the addition of scores more cruise passengers to The Bahamas: “The ITM Group is proposing a $130 million development in Grand Bahama that includes the redevelopment of the Grand Lucayan resort complex, and the transformation of Grand Bahama’s cruise port into an adventure park, a project that would produce 2,500 direct jobs and 18,000 indirect jobs, according to the group’s proposal.
“ITM’s redevelopment of the Grand Lucayan Resort complex into an area called Lucaya Islands, is estimated to cost $30 million, and includes a water park, convention facilities, and resort accommodations…”
The Nassau Guardian story continued: “ITM’s objectives include: ‘Improve and increase the current port infrastructure; substantially increase the number of tourists; develop new and unique recreational experiences; redevelop and upgrade Port Lucaya property; integrate Freeport Harbour and Port Lucaya with multi-modal connectivity; promote the economy of Freeport through a comprehensive integrated tourism development; improve the quality of life for the Freeport population; generate new direct and indirect employment opportunities; showcase the cultural, gastronomic and artistic wealth of The Bahamas; feature the destination’s attributes in a sustainable and responsible manner; promote local entrepreneurship; and boost and support local business.’
“ITM’s proposal suggests two million cruise passengers per year could be gained by these attractions, and said passenger spend could be about $180 million per year.”
Whether this proposal comes to fruition or how much of it may be realized is uncertain. Proposals go through various iterations, circumstances change and other factors often intervene.
As Hubert Ingraham often uproariously joked: “There is many a slip between cup and lip.”
But what might be said is that the major cruise lines and other developers recognize the untapped touristic potential in The Bahamas, a potential we must guide for the development of greater opportunities for Bahamians from tourism.
We have the most stunning waters and beaches in the world. Our culture and heritage is rich. We enjoy numerous geographical advantages. We are a stable country with the rule of law.
Our developmental task is to guard and to protect these resources and advantages, while exponentially boosting the capacity of Bahamians through opportunity, education and training to take greater advantage of the still vast untapped potential of tourism.