Cruise lines bring millions of passengers to The Bahamas every year and they have pledged to bring even greater hordes in the near future. Why? The cruise industry understands our country is easily accessible, warm, sunny and capable of generating huge corporate profits.
The outside world looks on in genuine bewilderment as one Bahamian administration after another allows the cruise industry players to set up shop in private enclaves, capturing virtually all revenue. Worse still, we sit on shore as these enormous gilded galleons sail off into the sunset without leaving any significant contribution behind.
Although the vast majority of tourists visiting The Bahamas are cruise passengers, the cruise industry contributes only around 10 percent to the nation’s GDP.
So-called “stay-over” tourism accounts for the lion’s share of GDP in The Bahamas. Notwithstanding this striking imbalance in the segment of the economy most important to The Bahamas, the government appears downright giddy to grant foreign cruise lines the kind of economic concessions that would make even an oligarch blush.
It does not, however, routinely grant similar economic concessions to its own internal investors. Instead, it clings to policies that make it very difficult to do business in the country.
Sadly, it is the standard relationship between the cruise industry and the Bahamian government.
Disney Cruise Line was allowed to purchase the Lighthouse Point property despite the fact that a home-grown, alternative development plan was proposed in which all investors would be Bahamian and all revenues would remain in-country. Quite simply, the government lacked faith in its own people and did not believe they could capitalize on the Lighthouse Point site.
Given the vast sums of money conceded away in the Lighthouse deal and others like it, one has to ask, “If the government was willing to give up millions in the form of concessions, why wouldn’t it simply invest the same amount in its own people?”
As mentioned, a coalition of local investors was poised and ready to create an exciting, sustainable, low impact development at Lighthouse Point that would have created more full-time jobs, a viable tourism economy in south Eleuthera, and revenues that would actually remain in the country. Instead of supporting (dare we say subsidize) this internal investment scheme, the government again chose so-called foreign investment.
Perhaps, just perhaps, we are beginning to experience an outrage tipping point triggered by recent announcements by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and the Bahamian government that a large tract of land has been granted to the cruise line at the expense of an existing local enterprise.
Once again, the government seems hell-bent on allowing a cruise line to isolate its passengers away from general commerce so the company can capture all revenues without sharing. Once again, a foreign “investor” intent on repatriating every penny of earnings it derives from The Bahamas is given priority over a local Bahamian businessperson.
Isn’t it time for The Bahamian people to stand up and insist on a more balanced relationship with the cruise industry? Is that notion really so revolutionary? Isn’t it time for the government to focus on the segment of our tourism economy that actually matters, the stay-over tourists? We need more eco-lodges, not private cruise ports. We need more boutique hotels, not grotesque private amusement parks like Coco Cay. Isn’t it time for a moratorium on private cruise ports?
— Sam Duncombe