Taking advantage of the cruise business
The Bahamas welcomed the largest cruise ship in the world in November last year. Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas came to the Port of Nassau.
The ship is the latest of the company’s Oasis class. It can accommodate 6,680 guests; has 18 decks; 2,759 state rooms and is 1,188 feet. It looked like a floating city in Nassau Harbour.
Hubert Ingraham, in his last term in government, dredged the harbor to accommodate the Oasis-class ships. The then opposition Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) opposed the move. History has proven Ingraham correct. Last year 2.6 million people came to the Port of Nassau, making it one of the largest passenger cruise ports in the world.
Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar said at the ceremony welcoming Symphony that, annually, cruise tourism makes more than a $400 million impact on the economy, and accounts for 9,000 jobs.
Previously it was thought cruise passengers spent around $70 per person in the country. Recently released data from the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association, however, indicates that figure could be as high as $130.
Cruise tourism is an important part of the overall tourism economy. Nearly five million people came to the country by sea last year.
Bahamians often look down on cruise passengers. We want the big spenders who come via planes. They spend between $1,400 and $1,500 per person.
It must be understood that it is not an either-or proposition between air and sea arrivals. We should want large numbers of all types of tourists as part of a diversified tourism economy.
In the cruise segment, The Bahamas needs to create more experiences to encourage these millions of people to spend more here. As a priority downtown Nassau needs revival. And the key to that revival is getting people to live in the city.
When people live in a city center the necessary businesses to serve them emerge naturally. A diversity of restaurants, bars and entertainment venues open up. Pharmacies, bookstores, bakeries are there too.
Cities with diverse amenities attract cruise passengers off ships to partake in local experiences.
East of East Street in Nassau should be a place for mid- to high-rise residences. This has been much discussed but nothing has happened. Realtors have complained that the government has not provided a clear go-ahead allowing high rises. If that’s the hold-up, the government is being shortsighted. Investment should not be prevented due to something so simple.
To maximize the benefits from the cruise industry Bahamians also need to get more into tour and excursion businesses. Cruise visitors are here only for a few hours. They want quick, interesting experiences that are affordable.
All is not bad downtown. The Pointe is progressing. Arawak Cay is attractive. From the Hilton to East Street is an okay commercial zone. But so much more is possible.
The government has selected Global Ports Holding, a leading global cruise port operator, to transform Prince George Wharf. When that project is complete, it will significantly enhance the area.
The cruise business is an important part of the Bahamian economy. We should be proud of our successes and work to grow its economic benefit. Those who criticize the industry are ignorant. Without it there’d be more hardship for our people.