By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Total cruise passenger spending in Nassau and Freeport has flat-lined over the past three years, a newly-released industry survey revealed yesterday, even though per capita yields are up 27.8 per cent.
The Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association’s (FCCA) tri-annual survey of the sector’s impact revealed that despite an increase in per capita spending, from $64.81 in 2012 to $82.83 this year, total passenger expenditure in the Bahamas’ two main cities has remained stubbornly flat.
The survey, produced for the FCCA and its cruise destinations, including the Bahamas, revealed that total cruise passenger spending in Nassau and Freeport had risen by just 0.8 per cent over this three-year period - from $241.5 million to $243.5 million.
And both the per capita yield and total spend by ship’s crews disembarking in the two cities has declined between 2012 and 2015, according to the FCCA survey.
Crew spending per head was down by 45.9 per cent, at $60 compared to $111 in 2012, while their total spending was also off - this time by 24.7 per cent, falling from $79.3 million to $59.7 million.
No explanation was given for the decline by the FCCA survey, although it likely reflects the Bahamas’ proximity to the US and, as the most frequently-visited cruise destination, crews feel they have experienced everything Nassau and Freeport have to offer.
Defining ‘high volume destinations’ as those attracting more than one million cruise passengers per year, the FCCA study found that of the seven Caribbean destinations meeting this criteria, the Bahamas had the lowest per capita visitor spend despite receiving the highest number - 2.94 million.
“Average spending per passenger ranged from $82.83 per passenger in the Bahamas to $191.26 in St. Maarten,” the report said.
“Of the seven destinations, only the Bahamas and Puerto Rico had average passenger expenditures below the all destination average of $103.83. Combined, the seven destinations had an average passenger expenditure of $122.06, nearly 18 per cent above the Caribbean average.”
The data will again raise concern that the Bahamas has become a ‘numbers’ or volume destination when it comes to the cruise business, and that Nassau and Freeport lack the high-end excursions, attractions and experiences to improve margins and passenger yields.
Despite this, the FCCA survey suggested that the Bahamas continues to benefit from its proximity to the US making it a natural for three and four-night cruises - at least until Cuba fully opens up. American legislation also requires ships departing its shores to call at foreign ports before returning home.
“The Bahamas, with 3.93 million passenger and crew visits, had the highest volume of visits in the Caribbean,” the report said.
“It also had the second highest level of direct expenditures with $373 million. Thus, each visit generated an average total expenditure of $95 across all passenger and crew visits.
“As a result of the $373 million in direct expenditures, the Bahamas benefited from the generation of 7,954 jobs paying wage income of $138 million, the third highest totals in both categories throughout the Caribbean.”
Expanding on this analysis, the report added: “Thus, in the Bahamas, every $1 million in direct cruise tourism expenditures generated 21 jobs throughout the island’s economy, which paid an average annual wage of about $17,400.
“The Bahamas led all Caribbean destinations with just over 3.93 million onshore passenger and crew visits. This was nearly 30 per cent higher than the volume of the next highest destination, Cozumel.
“The Bahamas also had the highest level of cruise line and crew expenditures, $69.9 million and $59.7 million, respectively.”
The survey estimated that the $373.1 million total cruise industry spending in the Bahamas translated into 4,568 jobs in this nation, and annual wages worth a cumulative $81 million.
The other 3,400 jobs, and $57.5 million in wages, were said to be generated from the spending of businesses and employees that benefited from the cruise industry.
“The total employment and wage impacts of cruise tourism are concentrated in the commercial and transport sectors, which account for about 97 per cent of the total impacts,” the FCCA report said.
“This is not surprising since the direct impacts account for nearly 60 per cent of the total employment impacts, and that virtually all of the cruise tourism expenditures are made with businesses in these sectors.
“Because of the relatively higher wages in the transport sector compared to the other sectors of the economy, the transport sector accounts for 41 per cent of the wage impacts but only 27 per cent of the employment impacts. The remainder of the total employment and wage impacts was generated by the indirect spending in the other sectors of the economy.”
Dissecting the numbers further, the FCCA report said around 994,900 crew members were estimated to have come ashore in Nassau and Freeport during the 2014-2015 cruise season.
“Crew spent an average of $60 per visit. Crew expenditures were concentrated in restaurants and bars, and clothing and jewellery stores, which accounted for nearly 60 per cent of their spending in the Bahamas,” the survey added.
“Expenditures by crew in Bahamas were concentrated in three categories which accounted for 64 per cent of their onshore expenditures: food and beverages, perfumes and cosmetics, and other (unspecified) purchases.
“Combined, crew spent an average of $38.224 million for goods in these three categories. Purchases of food and beverages were the most popular expenditure item, with 79 per cent of the crew reporting the purchase of food and beverages.”