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Minister Pledges Cruise Line Reset

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Minister of Tourism yesterday said the Bahamas must reset its relationship with the cruise lines, adding: "They make all the money, and we have nothing."

Dionisio D'Aguilar told Tribune Business that this nation needs to "be a little more aggressive", and ensure it earns a greater share of the economic activity generated by millions of cruise visitors to its shores annually.

In return, he acknowledged that the Bahamas needed to "improve its product" - especially on New Providence - and provide cruise passengers with new, innovative tours and attractions.

Mr D'Aguilar said this was essential to increase per capita spending and yields, suggesting that the Bahamas had to its detriment focused on 'volumes' - the number of cruise visitors per annum - rather than total economic returns.

"We've got to be a little more aggressive," he told Tribune Business. "We have a duty to improve our product, but when we do we want the cruise ship lines to be a little fairer in terms of a little more of the GDP effect coming into the economy.

"The situation as it is now is unsustainable with the way it is structured. The cruise ship companies come in now and make all the money, and we have nothing."

Mr D'Aguilar spoke out after Tribune Business reminded him of the concerns frequently expressed to this newspaper by Bahamian-owned shore excursion, tour and attraction providers about cruise industry practices.

These complaints, usually made privately to this newspaper out of fear of losing the cruise lines' business, frequently revolve around the on-board marketing programmes that direct passengers to patronise certain land-based businesses when the ships arrive in the Bahamas.

Another outcry has been that cruise lines sometimes dictate the margins and mark-ups that Bahamian-owned businesses can earn, impacting their ability to generate profits and survive.

The cruise industry's increasing use of Bahamian private islands is also a concern, as the lines typically run and control the attractions there themselves, leaving little opportunity for Bahamian entrepreneurs and creating just a few local jobs.

On the flip side, the cruise industry has long complained about the condition of Prince George's Wharf and the lack of attractions for passengers, while New Providence's crime issues have also been a sector concern.

"That's got to change," Mr D'Aguilar said in response. "You're not going to come to this destination and be greedy, and get it all for yourself.

"Once we come up with something new, innovative and different, our people have the right to access these passengers. Give us some hope, as they say."

The Minister, meanwhile, said data showing the Bahamas has endured one of the lowest tourism growth rates in the Caribbean over the past five years "speaks volumes" as to why gross domestic product (GDP) has expanded so little.

Central Bank figures showed Cuba enjoyed the strongest 2016 growth with a 13 per cent expansion in arrivals, due largely due to the US easing travel restrictions under the Obama administration.

More revealing was the cumulative performance since 2011, the Central Bank saying: "Over the last five years, the growth rates were strongest for Cuba (8.1 per cent), the Dominican Republic (5.1 per cent) and Jamaica (4.6per cent), while for the Bahamas the average was 2.4 per cent."

With its Caribbean counterparts again seemingly expanding faster than the Bahamas in its most important industry, Mr D'Aguilar said: "The report speaks volumes that we are not exciting enough people to come to our destination and to vacation here.

"If you drill down deeper into those numbers, the scary thing is stopover visitors are not growing at all. What growth we're getting is from cruise passengers.

"While the number of cruise passengers has increased significantly over the years, giving us this growth, they're spending less and less, the GDP effect is marginal, and that's why the economy is not growing."

The Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association's (FCCA) last tri-annual survey of the sector's impact revealed that per capita passenger spending in the Bahamas had actually increased, from $64.81 in 2012 to $82.83 in 2015. But combined passenger expenditure in Nassau and Freeport remained stubbornly flat.

Mr D'Aguilar told Tribune Business that while cruise passengers accounted for 75 per cent of the Bahamas' visitors, they are "only spending 25 per cent of the money". He added that it was key to grow stopover, or hotel-based, visitors, and improve yields/per capita spending from both these visitors and cruise passengers.

"I would challenge anyone to drill down and focus on stopover visitors, as they spend the money in our economy, and whether that's improving," he said. "That's what I'm focused on."

While Baha Mar's net 2,300 room increase is the hoped-for catalyst to increase stopover visitor numbers, Mr D'Aguilar said the Bahamas needed its private sector to "step up" and provide new experiences for both land-based and cruise passengers.

"We've got lots and lots of cruise passengers," he added, "and it's not important to grow that number. We have to find out ways for them to spend more money when they come here. That's the challenge.

"We've been focused on on growing volumes, and when they come here there's less and less interesting things for them to do. It's a product we should not be proud of.

"We want Bahamians to come forward. These are entrepreneurial opportunities. We have 4.5 million people dropping into our port, and we have to come forward with creative ideas, and get people engaged and spending money when they come here."

Mr D'Aguilar said per capita cruise passenger spending yields were $100 higher in Aruba when compared to the Bahamas.

Issuing a call to action, he added: "Instead of sitting around and waiting for tourists to spend money, we have to find ways to get them to spend money, and that's where I need the private sector to step up.

"This is a people business. We have to engage with the people, and show we're creating something of value, interest and is experiential. This is a huge opportunity for Bahamians that we're not tapping into.

"Make something interesting, make something fun, and they will spend the money. Let the Ministry assist you in getting the passengers. That's where we come in. That's our job."

Comments

TalRussell 4 months, 1 week ago

Comrades! { I swear, I ain't the one making up the thing about Dionisio's 'resets.' }.
What time does the 'daily' resets happen over the tourism ministry...... Whenever the minister runs out fresh constructive ideas on anything he's working on - he presses the 'reset' button - just before he calls in the media.

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rqd2 4 months, 1 week ago

Here's what some cruise passengers think of Nassau: https://goo.gl/EuWddF

Perception is reality. Change their perception and maybe the spending will grow.

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BahamasForBahamians 4 months, 1 week ago

Go Ahead Dionisio, scare all the cruise lines away from The Bahamas.

Dionisio well knows the relationship between the state and the cruiselines is not the issue... The FNM Supported cruise agents are sucking the economy dry...such firms are directly responsible for doing a poor a job in remitting collected taxes to the government agencies.

they're pocketing it all for themselves.

Mind you this is nothing new. PLP candidate jackson ritchie declared upwards in 50million in 2007 using this same concept.

But the poodle must get his act together.. Any right thinking Bahamian knows these cruise lines pay their fair share... its the companies (i.e, RH Curry, Elnet Maritime, Inchcape shipping) All FNM backed firms that are sucking the revenues out of the country.

Someone get this poodle muzzle!.

Sorry Poodle: Though you may be the minister The Bahamas' tourism product is not Superwash LTD.

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TalRussell 4 months, 1 week ago

Comrade Minister "The Fonzio" would be wise to hire "Miss Daisy" to appear in ad programs to attract tourists visits to Bay Street merchants.

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DillyTree 4 months, 1 week ago

And we get nothing? Is the good minister serious? Let's check off a few things --

  1. We get a per head tax for every passenger brought by the cruise ships -- whether they get off the ship or not.
  2. We get docking fees and other fees from the cruise ships on each arrival and departure.
  3. Until we clean up our downtown area, stop the hassling and harassing of tourists by local vendors and drug dealers, and have something to offer them, maybe we should get "nothing"!!
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sheeprunner12 4 months, 1 week ago

DD is right ......... 75% of our tourists come by sea ........ but 60% of our tourism revenue comes from the 25% stop-overs ........ Why did the government give these cruise companies "private islands"????? ......... Why do the cruise ships continue to operate their on-board activities while in port???? ........ Why do the country subsidize the operations of these cruise ships through providing water, electricity, garbage etc when they are in our ports????? ...... We have given up all of our geo-strategic cruise advantages for the proverbial bowl of porridge.

Only 10% of tourists come off the cruise ships in Nassau ........ What does that tell us??????

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professionalbahamian 4 months, 1 week ago

The reality is that Bay Street is in as poor condition as it was 30 years ago and worse. That's our front yard and it is nasty for the most part.

We need a waterfront maritime museum, waterfront restaurants/ cafes with nice, clean and inviting outdoor seating all along the "market range", clean streets and alleys, residential buildings in the heart of town, a no tolerance policy for persons harassing tourists (selling drugs or whatever).

Perhaps add safe, Bahamian owned small boat activities along the waterfront.

Set target time lines for renewing the entire Bay Street strip (Nassau street) West to East (Deveaux) and publish the schedule so persons can come forward with investment/ development ideas and funding.

Remove all import duties on tourism related investments made by true tax paying Bahamian owned businesses for 5 years or more. Work towards easing the cost of doing business to grow the private sector. Grow the private sector by reducing taxes and you should in fact increase your tax revenue and the government's burden of needing to create jobs.

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sheeprunner12 4 months, 1 week ago

The government should tear down everything east of East Street and create a new town centre of high rise condos and open spaces for urban living and clear the shoreline to create a new urban alternative to the Fish Fry ........ Something has to change with Downtown ...... Create a Local Government City of Nassau District with a mayor and city manager and let this become a PPP project. ....... Local Government should create about seven mayoral districts ...... City of Nassau, Central NP, Southern NP, Eastern NP, Western NP, Southwest NP and Southeast NP by using natural artery roads ....... The constituency boundaries should be cut along major artery roads and not the present gerrymandering designs that exist today and overlap with the LG districts

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killemwitdakno 4 months ago

I'm sure other comments have addressed making the strut down appealing. Fix Junkanoo Beach. Have the tours lined up and licensed to take tourists.

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DDaman 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Disney Cruise passenger here . . . 6 times I've been on cruises that stopped at Nassau; only once I've got off the ship (when our son was young) to do a carriage ride/tour of downtown (ok), and see the then-being-rehabilated "straw market" (like a MiddleEastern souk, but with less interesting wares). Mostly, we stay on the ship.

Not interested in paying $$$'s to see Atlantis; not interested in paying $$$'s to torment dolphins . . . What else is there to do? Beach is better at Castaway Cay and doesn't cost anything. Seriously, what else is there do???

Would love to play tennis in Nassau but can this be done for less than $60 per person? Bicycle tour of the countryside? Horseback riding on trails/woods/beaches? Show me something worth my time and money.

Btw, I live in a "tourist town" in New Jersey and I understand the love/hate relationship that "townies" have with waves of rude/obnoxious visitors with cash.

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