The closure of Cuba to U.S. cruise lines under the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump could be the reason for the growth in cruise company activity in The Bahamas, said Giora Israel, Carnival Corporation’s senior vice president of global port and destination development.
“Previous plans Carnival had for additional development in The Bahamas kind of fell asleep when Cuba became accessible to cruise lines under the Obama administration,” he said in an interview with travel and tourism website Travelpulse.com.
“The expectation was that sooner or later, Cuba would open and ultimately allow for a traditional cruise product.
“That did not happen. A new president came into power, shifted back to the old regulations and then shut the door down completely.”
Despite cruise lines’ obvious dismay over the closure of Cuba, Israel said The Bahamas and its proximity to important Florida ports has always been an important dynamic for the industry.
He said that much of Carnival’s plans have always been in play for The Bahamas.
“Some were in place nevertheless. For example, Carnival Cruise Line never had a private Bahamian island,” he said.
“We wanted to have Carnival’s island somewhere all of the other islands are, closer to Orlando, Port Everglades and Miami. In May of 2017, we signed an agreement with the government to start a project in Grand Bahama, but that did not work out because of maritime conditions in that area.
“The Bahamas has always been a very important country based on the number of passengers we carry there. Furthermore itinerary planning, driven by vessel speed, driven by the ability to offer diverse and shorter itineraries, means the ports close to South Florida are stronger than ever.”
In September, Israel was on hand to sign a deal for his company to begin the development of its $100 million cruise port on Grand Bahama by mid-2020, and for $80 million worth of improvements to the cruise line’s private island, Half Moon Cay.
Israel said then that Carnival’s Grand Bahama port will be its largest cruise port anywhere in the world and contended that his company intends to build a “great” and “resilient” port after seeing the devastation left behind on Grand Bahama following the passage of Hurricane Dorian.
“The Carnival port in Grand Bahama will be the first time a real port will be developed on a populated island in the territory. That is significant for the economy and its people. Add into that that Grand Bahama had not been doing too well even prior to Dorian,” he said.
“The Grand Lucayan resort shut down; others were damaged by Hurricane Maria and never reopened. Grand Bahama Island is two-and-a-half times the size of Singapore and has excellent infrastructure, but has never shook itself out of its predicament. The great days of Freeport as a vacation destination were in the past. Our investment will be a major injection into the economy.
“We’ve been working with the new government and Prime Minister Hubert Minnis on this new project. This is not a private island port. We are developing an exclusive destination for Carnival capable of taking up to two large ships.
“We will be able to allow people to really enjoy a port that will not only feature excitement and thrills and shore excursions, available from Freeport for the first time, but also local restaurants and merchants and the people of Grand Bahama.”
Minnis said in September that Carnival’s Grand Bahama development will include a water park, lighthouse and fort for recreation, nightclubs and restaurants, a harbor town plaza and, in the future, zip lines and rock climbing walls.
The government’s negotiations with Royal Caribbean Cruises and ITM on their cruise port and hotel development project continue and an agreement is expected to be reached before the end of the year.