By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Average cruise visitor spend in the Bahamas has slumped by an alarming 23 per cent over the past three years, a report for the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) has revealed, even though this nation leads the Caribbean through an annual $394 million economic impact from the industry.
The FCCA’s Economic Impact of Cruise Tourism, released this week, indicates that while per passenger spending yields have dropped between 2009 and 2012, falling from $83.93 to $64.81, this has been more than offset by an increase in visitor numbers (volumes).
The 22.8 per cent decline in per capita cruise passenger spending in the Bahamas is the largest in the Caribbean region over the past three years, bar the US Virgin Islands. Other nations have seen double digit increases in the yields, including a 60 per cent increase in the Dominican Republic.
The FCCA data also contradicts recent statements by Carla Stuart, the Ministry of Tourism’s director of cruise development, who said last month that per capita cruise passenger spending had increased from $73 in 2010 to $111 in 2011.
It is possible she was thinking of cruise ship crew spending, as the FCCA survey said this was going in the opposite direction to passengers.
It added that per capita spending by ship’s crew visiting the Bahamas had risen 42.4 per cent between 2009 and 2012, growing from $77.95 to $111.
Increasing yields from spending by ship’s crew, and the rising number of passengers visiting the Bahamas on three to four-night cruises, boosted the total spending impact both were having on this nation’s economy.
Total spending by cruise passengers visiting Nassau and Freeport rose by 42.5 per cent between 2009 and 2012, from $169.5 million to $241.5 million, according to the FCCA survey.
Over the same period, total spending in the Bahamas by visiting cruise ship crew more than doubled - increasing from $28 million to $79.3 million.
The missing component of the cruise industry’s total economic impact on the Bahamas came from the $73 million the lines paid themselves, largely port fees, services and departure taxes.
The FCCA report said: “The Bahamas led all destinations [on total cruise spending] with $393.8 million, followed by St Maarten with $356.2 million, the US Virgin Islands with $339.8 million, Puerto Rico with $186.6 million and the Cayman Islands with $157.7 million......
“The Bahamas..... also led all destinations with just over 4.4 million onshore passenger and crew visits. This was more than double the volume of the next highest destination, the US Virgin Islands. These expenditures, in turn, generated an estimated 8,668 jobs paying $146 million in wage income during the 2011/2012 cruise year.”
While the Bahamas experienced an increase in cruise passenger and crew visits over the 2009-2012 period, the former’s average per capita spend remained well below the $95.92 regional average - something that should concern both the Ministry of Tourism and businesses reliant on the industry.
“Average spending per passenger ranged from $64.80 per passenger in the Bahamas to $185.40 in St. Maarten. Of the five [largest] destinations, only the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands had average passenger expenditure below the all destination average of $95.92,” the FCCA report said.
The news was better on the crew spending front, the report finding: “Crew visiting the Bahamas spent an estimated $79.3 million, the highest level of crew expenditures among the 21 participating destinations.
“A total of 714,600 crew were estimated to have made an onshore visit during the 2011/2012 cruise year, the highest number of visits among the 21 participating destinations.
“Crew spent an average of $111 per visit, the fourth highest average. Crew expenditures were concentrated in entertainment venues and restaurants and bars, which accounted for nearly 70 percent of their spending in the Bahamas.”
And, as for spending by the cruise lines themselves, the FCCA report said: “The Bahamas had the highest total expenditures by cruise lines among the 21 participating destinations, $73 million.
“The expenditures by cruise lines in the Bahamas were concentrated in port fees and services, which accounted for over 98 per cent of total cruise line expenditures.”
Summing up what this all meant for the Bahamian economy, the FCCA said: “Combining all direct expenditures, the cruise sector generated $393.8 million in cruise tourism expenditures.
“These expenditures, in turn, generated an estimated 4,987 direct jobs paying $85.6 million in direct wage income during the 2011/2012 cruise year.”
And for the total economic impact, it found: “The Bahamas with the highest volume of passenger and crew visits, just over 4.4 million, had the highest economic impact.
“Combining all direct expenditures, these generated an estimated 8,668 jobs paying $146 million in wage income during the 2011/2012 cruise year.
“Thus, in the Bahamas, every $1 million in direct cruise tourism expenditures generated 22 jobs throughout the Bahamian economy, which paid an average annual wage of about US$16,000.”