By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
and NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Minister of Tourism yesterday downplayed the impact from Norwegian Cruise Lines switching 25 sailings from the Bahamas to Cuba, expressing confidence that this nation will remain in the “driver’s seat” as a top Caribbean cruise destination.
“In so far as the Bahamas is concerned, The Bahamas solidified itself in terms of cruise arrivals and also the major cruse ships,” Obie Wilchcombe said.
“We just signed a major agreement with MSC and, of course. they are developing Ocean Cay. Royal Caribbean has just announced another expansion to their development in Coco Cay. Carnival is about to make a major announcement and has signed an arrangement with the Bahamas government for Grand Bahama. All the major cruise lines are still in the Bahamas.”
Mr Wilchcombe was responding to queries over Norwegian Cruise Line’s decision to swap regular calls on Nassau and Freeport for an overnight stay in Havana, Cuba.
The cruise line, in a statement issued to Tribune Business, confirmed the itinerary change, saying: “Following Norwegian Cruise Line’s recent approval to sail to Cuba, Norwegian Sky has adjusted a selection of its previously scheduled calls on Grand Bahama and Nassau to accommodate an overnight call in Havana, Cuba.
“Norwegian Cruise Line will continue to call on Nassau, Bahamas, year-round with Norwegian Sky every Saturday; Norwegian Gem each week during the summer months; and Norwegian Escape, the line’s largest ship, every Friday in the winter months and bi-weekly in the summer months.”
It pointed out that Norwegian Cruise Line did not have any five-day cruises to the Bahamas, Tribune Business having been given two four-day cruise schedules, both of which confirmed the switch to Cuba.
Norwegian Cruise Line, in a statement issued to the media the previous day, said 25 four and five-day cruises during the 2017 second half will now enjoy “an overnight stay in Cuba’s historical and culturally-rich capital of Havana”.
Tribune Business obtained additional information showing that all-day calls on Nassau and Freeport were dropped to make way for Havana. This showed that the Norwegian Sky’s four-day cruises from Miami to the Bahamas typically spend Tuesday’s docked in Freeport from 8am to 5pm, followed by a Wednesday call in Nassau that lasts from 8am to 6pm.
Mr Wilchcombe said: “From time to time there will be changes and rotations, and we understand that. As far as we are concerned we have a good relationship with Norwegian and with the other cruise lines, and we intend to keep that.
“The Bahamas understands that we must always improve upon the product because of the competition, but we will also be in the driver’s seat.”
Mr Wilchcombe added: “Because Cuba cannot take some of the large vessels, the Bahamas will still be accommodating more of the large vessels, but Cuba is part of the Caribbean, such as Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and others, and we are working always with them on a multi-destination marketing. We must at all times continue to improve on our product.”
Free National Movement (FNM) deputy leader, K Peter Turnquest, yesterday argued that the Bahamas needs to work “double time” to ensure that other cruise lines do not end their calls on Bahamian ports in favour of Cuba.
“We will experience a loss of customers, a loss in revenues and profits and an increase in our national debt,” he said of Norwegian’s decision.
“When companies start to leave the Bahamas and a trend is allowed to begin, it is hard to stop.
“This change in destinations will mean that the Bahamas will lose out on 25 cruises, which make stops in both Nassau and Freeport, in the second half of 2017. This will have major negative impact on our tourism industry.
“With the US-Cuba relations on the mend, the Bahamas needs to work double time to ensure that other cruise lines do not end their calls on Bahamian ports.”
The Ministry of Tourism, giving its own take, said it was “regrettable” that Freeport and Nassau had been dropped from the 25 cruises’ schedule, especially given Hurricane Matthew’s impact on the former.
“The timing for the Sky to drop Freeport, Grand Bahama, an island that is still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Matthew, which struck the island in October 2016, is regrettable. We look forward to Norwegian returning to that island in 2018,” the Ministry said.
It added that the Norwegian Sky would still be calling on Nassau on its three-day cruises, and said all the cruise lines vessels came to the Bahamas, being “vested” in this destination.
Pointing out that Norwegian’s vessels all came under the Bahamian flag, the Ministry of Tourism said: “Figures from 2016 show that cruise visits were up by 5.8 per cent over 2015. A total of 4,219,218 visitors cruised to the Bahamas through to November last year, compared to 4,066,530 for the same period in 2015. As a result, thousands of jobs and millions of dollars have been injected into the Bahamian economy as a result of the cruise industry.
“Moreover, many cruise lines who committed to move their itinerary to Asia have moved back to the region, where the Bahamas owns the market share. This is further evident in the investments by all major cruise lines including Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Disney, MSC and Carnival Cruise Line.
“It should be noted as well that several new cruises by major operators were added to the Bahamas in 2016, including the Carnival Vista, which has capacity for up to 5,000 guests, and Royal Caribbean Harmony, which has a capacity for up to 5,400.”