By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A well-known architect has questioned why the Bahamas could not find an extra $1 million to upgrade Nassau’s “most visited” attraction when the harbour was dredged, warning: “Cruise ships are our competitors, not our customers”.
Pat Rahming, of Pat Rahming & Associates, told Tribune Business that the Bahamas’ focus with cruise tourism and ‘arrivals numbers’ had resulted in a destination where all the attractions and tours were dedicated to ‘short-stay’ visitors.
This had come at the expense of higher yielding stopover visitors, he argued, with 80 per cent of the Bahamas’ tourism capital development budget geared towards infrastructure supporting the cruise - not hotel - industry.
Emphasising that he was not opposed to the cruise industry or its business, Mr Rahming said the sector had evolved from merely being a method of transportation - as it was when he took a cruise ship from Nassau to New York in 1965.
“A cruise ship is a tourist destination,” he told Tribune Business. “It is our competition. The people on a cruise ship are not our customers. That’s why it’s unrealistic to believe anything we do will get more than $100 from them.
“They do not buy a trip to the Bahamas. If they’ve bought a cruise and the weather turns bad, and they can’t go to Nassau and have to go to Puerto Rico, it makes no difference. The reality is no one goes back to the place where the ship stopped.”
Assessing the state of Nassau’s key visitor attractions, Mr Rahming said: “Forty-two years ago Fort Charlotte had a sound and light show, a museum of wax figures telling the story of Nassau.
“Today, it’s got story boards. It’s not a shadow of what it was 42 years ago. None of our forts are anywhere near the shape of any others in the region.”
He added: “The most visited attraction 10 years ago was Nassau’s Water Tower. It’s been closed for six years. I’m told $1 million could get it open.
“You’d have thought that when we spent around $50 million on dredging the harbour a few years ago we could have found $1 million to get that up and running....
“What we have now arrived at is a destination where all the attractions are dependent around a visitor who stays a few hours.”
Mr Rahming argued that the Bahamian tourism industry, by focusing on the cruise industry so much, and at the expense of land-based visitors, was sacrificing long-term profits and sustainability for short-term cash flow.
He also noted that the cruise ships often controlled the mark-ups (profit margins) earned by Bahamas-based tour and excursion providers, directed passengers to certain amenities and influenced other aspects of the visitor stay/experience while in Nassau and Freeport.
“We need to recognise that the people who come off the major cruise ships are not our customers,” Mr Rahming reiterated.
“We will never have a Cirque du Soleil show here, because no one is focusing on the shore visitors. A major Bahamian revue, a theme park, that industry is of no use for the development of tourism. It’s good cash flow up front, but it’s not development.”
He added that the Bahamas has a destination had “a certain vitality” up until 1982-1983. Yet by 1985, cruise passengers were accounting for a majority 64 per cent of all foreign tourist arrivals to the Bahamas, when just 10 years before the position was reversed and stopover tourists were in the ascendancy.