Fears of economic crisis loom as cruise ships halt U.S. business

Some Bahamians working on Bay Street worry that the area is headed toward an economic “crisis” following an announcement by U.S. President Donald Trump that major U.S. cruise lines will “suspend outbound cruises for 30 days”.

“I feel like it’s going to be a crisis for a lot of people in here,” Juanita McPhee, 56, a straw vendor, told The Nassau Guardian.

“I’m basically prepared. I’d say I’m prepared because I don’t have anybody that relies on me so there’s a great difference and then I live in a home that is paid for.”

She said she has enough savings to last her until June.

McPhee said she doesn’t know what she’ll do if the suspension extends beyond that.

“It will be a very serious thing for me after the month of June,” she said.

In recent days, five major cruise lines — Carnival Cruise Lines, Norwegian Cruise Line, MSC Cruises, Disney Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean Cruises — announced that they would pause their cruise itineraries as a precautionary measure amid a worsening COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) pandemic.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest told The Guardian yesterday, “The government is meeting with stakeholders and external economic analysts to determine the full potential impact of this growing global crisis.

“The cruise business is a significant part of our economic model and thus the 30-day suspension will likely have a significant direct effect on those involved in the tourism service industry.

“The government — together with stakeholder consultation — will design a package of economic support to help cushion the short term effects of the fallout as we all work together to limit the domestic health and economic impacts.”

However, it seemed that the economic effects were already starting to trickle onto Bay Street on Saturday.

The area is usually bustling with thousands of tourists spilling off ships docked at the Port of Nassau but only a few hundred tourists — presumably from Carnival Liberty, which was the only ship docked at the port — walked Prince George Wharf.

Chunks of Bay Street looked ghostly with only employees of nearby stores lining arcades.

Shantel Rolle, a sales associate for Salty Waves, was one of those employees.

She paced the entrance of the souvenir store.

“We ga die,” Rolle told The Guardian.

“No cruise ships at all? You could imagine 30 days [and] no cruise ships? We don’t really make money from hotels. Hotels don’t really come downtown so you could imagine no cruise ships downtown at all, at all?

“And each one of these shops opened? You could imagine the employees that work? Where we ga find money from? Could we go to NIB and get money? How is this going to work for us?”

She said it is likely her boss will have to close the store for a month as a result of an inevitable decline in business.

Asked what’s her next step, Rolle replied, “I’m thinking of going to apply for McDonald’s.”

Ashley Desire, 19, a sales associate at Anto Silver, said she is “worried” how the lack of cruise ships will impact her financially.

“We don’t have no money and most of us don’t have savings, but most of us are excited because that’s a whole month off from work,” she said.

“The store’s not going to be open because mostly it’s the cruise ship we is making money off of.”

Desire said she doesn’t have a backup plan.

In 2019, 5.4 million cruise visitors came to The Bahamas, representing the bulk of visitor arrivals, although the air segment is high-value.

In its January economics and financial developments report, the Central Bank stated that activity in the tourism sector remained positive, albeit moderated, during the review period.

Official data provided by the Ministry of Tourism (MOT) revealed that total foreign arrivals for the month of December 2019 rose by 5.3 percent, but was below the 10 percent growth recorded in the prior year.

Specifically, the sea segment grew by 8.9 percent, following a growth of 9.2 percent in 2018.

Chief Executive Officer of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation (BCCEC) Jeffrey Beckles yesterday forecasted that the fallout from the halt in cruise passenger arrivals will have a more “significant” impact on The Bahamas than Hurricane Dorian — a Category 5 storm that ravaged the northern Bahamas and caused $3.4 billion in damage and losses — did.

“Obviously, it’s going to have an impact, an immediate impact,” Beckles said.

“I think the key for us is really hoping and praying that this does not go beyond the 30 days. The 30 days is a tough time for us because when you average 10,000 cruise passengers  a day and you take that away, that’s a significant number.”

He added, “Now, we find ourselves dealing with Dorian, the recovery and we have to deal with the global issue and by extension, it can have even more impact on us than Dorian did.”

Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar said things will be “tough” in the short-term locally.

“Your tourism sector is shutting down slowly every day and that’s our bread and butter,” he said.

“So, we’re probably in for a rough ride.”

As of yesterday, there have been more than 153,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 110 countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

At least 5,700 people have died from the virus globally.

The Bahamas has one confirmed case of COVID-19, according to Acting Health Minister Jeffrey Lloyd.

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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