By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamas National Trust’s (BNT) top executive yesterday made an “unreserved apology” to international boaters infuriated by his comments that many of them were ‘el cheapo smoochers’, who this nation should not mourn if they “p..... off” when charged minimal anchorage/mooring fees.
Eric Carey told Tribune Business in an exclusive interview that he wanted to “retract” comments made in a posting on this newspaper’s website, which resulted in incensed boaters threatening to take their cruises - and business - away from the Bahamas.
Expressing hope that his comments, and the fiery reaction, would not cost the Bahamian tourism industry and wider economy much-needed dollars, Mr Carey said his remarks - both on The Tribune website and at the Exuma Business Outlook Conference - were “ill advised”.
Acknowledging the potential major damage he had done to the Bahamas’ image in a key tourism market segment, Mr Carey said he had never intended to “paint all foreign boaters with the same brush”.
And he agreed that his remarks could be interpreted as “belittling, demeaning and devaluing” the economic contribution boaters made, especially in the Family Islands.
The road to Mr Carey’s apology began at the Exuma Business Outlook, where - as reported by Tribune Business last week - he suggested that communities throughout the Bahamas levy mooring and anchorage fees on visiting boaters.
He said many came to this nation, anchored in its waters and “pay absolutely nothing..... Half of the time they don’t even spend $5 in the Bahamas and what do they eat? Our fish”.
Mr Carey then added: “Thousands of boats come in and lay up in Elizabeth Harbour. Every one of them should be picking up a mooring for which they should pay, and if they don’t want to pay then they should go somewhere else.”
This, not surprisingly, prompted a sharp reaction in comments posted on The Tribune’s website. One boater described Mr Carey as “grossly misinformed”, saying he “spent plenty” every year in the Bahamas over several months in the winter season.
Another added: “We’ve already been driven away. After wintering in the Bahamas the last four seasons and spending over $26,000 in marina fees, restaurants, and groceries ($9 for a gallon of milk), we cut back spending after the entry fee went up. Now they’ve added the 9 per cent VAT on top starting this year, so we’ll just cut back entirely. Bye-bye Bahamas.”
Further commentary described Mr Carey’s remarks as “unsubstantiated bombast”, and “unsubstantiated and irresponsible”.
“I am a regular visitor to the Bahamas, and in addition to the $300 entry fee, I spend thousands of dollars annually on fuel, food and services,” the writer said.
“To imply that boaters are opportunistic free loaders who do nothing to contribute to the local economy is untrue and inflammatory. Adopting a stance of ‘pay or go elsewhere’ is short sighted and will harm local businesses, as many people will actually choose to go elsewhere.
“Eric Carey has done the Bahamas National Trust a disservice with his ham-fisted, undiplomatic remarks and he should be sanctioned by his trustees for alienating visitors and potential visitors to the Bahamas.”
It was then that Mr Carey compounded his original ‘sin’ by posting a response on The Tribune’s website.
Trying to put the situation in context, the BNT chief said he was responding to Exumians’ concerns over the environmental and water quality impact from hundreds of boaters mooring in Elizabeth Harbour.
He suggested that Exuma, and other islands, follow the lead established by the BNT in the Exuma Land and Sea Parks - levying mooring/anchorage fees on visiting boaters to help finance the area’s upkeep.
While acknowledging that there were many boaters who made major contributions to the Bahamian economy, Mr Carey also said in his posting: “There are bad apples as well. We encounter them all over the Bahamas.”
Referring to the Exuma Business Outlook, he added: “There were comments that many boaters are too ‘cheap’ and will not want to pay.
“I agreed that many of the boaters who come to the Bahamas indeed offer very little to the Bahamian economy. I did state that many of them do spend very little, as they come fully provisioned for the winter and indeed eat much of what they catch from our oceans........
“I can tell, with full confidence, that the general view prevails that many of these types of boaters get more out the Bahamas than they put back,” Mr Carey then wrote.
“Every time the Bahamas seeks to implement any policy or increase that will cause boaters to pay more there are these threats to abandon the destination. And, yes, we lose some every time. But I will never apologise for any initiative we implement that seeks to help protect our resources.
“For the ‘el cheapo smoochers’ who don’t want to pay anything, we always expect the backlash. But for those who love the Bahamas and understand how much it costs to keep it beautiful, and to keep fish in our oceans, they do get the picture and will be less resistant to these necessary initiatives.
“Those who get p..... off and leave, vowing never to come back, I’m not sure we should, as a country, worry too much about this ‘loss’.”
This, not surprisingly, only served to infuriate and raise the temperature among the international boating community to even higher levels.
IslandCruiser2 wrote on The Tribune’s website: “What you do not understand Mr Carey is that your comments are insulting and disrespectful to all boaters who cruise your waters.
“Cruising sailors are the ultimate eco-tourists...... When we cruised the Bahamas we spent thousands above the entry fee for marinas, restaurants, grocers, local services, and various tourist activities. Now you want us to accept your insults and pay more? No thank you.”
And ‘Privateer’ added: “As someone who has sailed the Bahamas, spending thousands of dollars doing so, I find these comments not only insulting but also ignorant.”
Then ‘Drew’ posted: “I had been planning on spending my first year of retirement next season cruising the Bahamas. I had been led to believe it was a warm and welcoming country. However, after reading Mr Carey’s words, maybe a straight-shot to the Virgin Islands is in order?
“Mr Carey needs to realise that every island in the Caribbean competes for cruisers’ dollars, actively or passively, and the first thing he needs to accept is that we don’t have to go to the Bahamas.
“It’s convenient, but it’s a destination that can easily be passed over, especially by the larger yachts that typically have more money to spend. Such derogatory and unwelcoming comments on his part does his nation no good, and it harms the small businesses that benefit from cruisers.”
Performing a rapid climbdown yesterday, although whether it is too late remains to be seen, Mr Carey said his Exuma Business Outlook comments were intended to suggest that all local government authorities explore ways to raise revenue via mooring/anchorage fees.
“Someone made the comment: ‘These guys are so cheap, they don’t pay anything’,” Mr Carey explained. “I made the ill-advised, off-the-cuff comment that these guys are so cheap, they don’t pay $5.
“That’s something I want to apologise for and retract.”
Mr Carey agreed that boaters’ postings to The Tribune’s website and other social media outlets proved their economic contribution to the Bahamas, and completely refuted his remarks.
“Most of them are responsible. The cheaper ones are in the minority,” he conceded. “I certainly would want to apologise to all the valuable boaters who contribute significantly to our country, do support our communities, and buy things like engines here.
“It wouldn’t want to make light of that by off-hand comments that belittle, demean and devalue the contribution they make.”
Mr Carey said he may have become carried away by his passion for his job, and social media images he had seen of some boaters engaged in illegal practices and killing/eating rare species such as iguanas.
“I should not have painted them all with the same brush” he told Tribune Business. “I’m offering an unreserved apology to the boaters who spend so much time in the Bahamas.”
“Will some of the folks go elsewhere because of the unfortunate comments? I don’t know; can’t say. But I know most of the boaters know that they are appreciated, and that the fact is they do contribute significantly to the economy. Most will accept my apology as genuine, and not stay mad for long.
“For those that are still upset and go elsewhere, hopefully they will calm down eventually and come back to the Bahamas next year.”