By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
THE Downtown Nassau Partnership's (DNP) co-chair yesterday backed outsourcing Prince George Wharf's management, suggesting it would eliminate "chaos" and improve the Bahamas cruise competitiveness.
Charles Klonaris, who developed the Elizabeth on Bay plaza with his brothers, told Tribune Business that allowing the private sector to take over operations at this nation's major cruise port was a potential "catalyst" for downtown Nassau's revival.
Speaking out after this newspaper revealed the Government is in initial talks with Global Port Holdings about taking over Prince George Wharf's management, Mr Klonaris said it was essential that the Bahamas "be at least one step ahead of the Caribbean" when it came to cruise tourism.
"I absolutely agree with it," he said of the potential outsourcing. "I haven't spoken to the rest of the DNP Board, but my personal view is that setting up proper port management is an essential factor.
"We're trying to have a better, more competitive economy, and setting up a port that enables us to provide persons with a product is essential. It's a competitive economy, and we're striving to be better than the region, so I find it really important."
The discussions between Global Port Holdings and the Government, which were confirmed by Dionisio D'Aguilar, minister of tourism, were revealed in the just-released report of the former's potential Bahamian partner, BISX-listed Arawak Port Development Company (APD).
"The partnership contemplates enhancing Prince George Wharf's cruise wharf to include additional berths and facilities. If approved by the Government of the Bahamas, the project would commence during the first half of 2018," APD said.
"This company is considered the world's largest cruise port operator with a portfolio that includes 14 ports in eight countries, serving cruise liners, ferries, yachts and mega yachts," it added of Global Port Holdings.
"Additionally, Global Port Holdings has connections with all the major cruise lines - Carnival, Royal Caribbean, MSC Cruises and so on. Desiring to have a Bahamian partner, they have approached APD to partner in the venture precisely."
Mr Klonaris said he was especially encouraged by the plans to increase Prince George Wharf's berthing capacity, given that this would enable the port to accommodate higher numbers of cruise ships and passengers at any one time.
He added that this would create greater opportunities for Bay Street and downtown businesses, boosting the economy and potential job prospects for Bahamians.
Organisation at Prince George's Wharf has long been a concern, with the likes of taxi and surrey drivers competing for business as tourists exit the complex, and many believing it gives a less than favourable visitor experience and first impression of Nassau.
"We all know that once you exit the Port there's chaos," Mr Klonaris told Tribune Business. "There's no organisation, and you just see a lot of people mingling. It's hard to manoeuvre through there and hard to see what's going on. I don't think it's well-organised and well-managed."
He added that port management was vital to cruise passenger and transportation flow, and the distribution of visitors to both downtown Nassau's east and west along Woodes Rodgers Wharf.
"I think it can be a catalyst as well in terms of encouraging development east of East Street," Mr Klonaris said of the potential management outsourcing. "It's a great benefit to the retailers on Bay Street.
"We've got to be at least one step ahead of the region, and we need proper management of that port. These things are going to play an important role down the road, especially given the globalised world and competitive world we live in.
"How you develop your economy to meet the needs of tourism is critical. If tourism is going to grow, we need management. That is key."
Global Port Holdings, which operates the cruise ports in Singapore, Barcelona, Lisbon and Venice, is concentrated in the Mediterranean. Taking over Nassau's cruise port operations would represent its entrance into the Caribbean market, opening up the possibility to expand its reach throughout the region.
Nassau's cruise port, though, would likely be the most lucrative target given that some 3.521 million passengers called upon it in 2016 - a number far higher than rival Caribbean ports. For the year to August 2017, some 2.469 million cruise passengers arrived in Nassau, a 4 per cent increase upon the prior year's 2.373 million.
The Government is especially eager to upgrade the downtown Nassau tourism product, with Prince George Wharf representing one of the main projects, given that it is the cruise industry equivalent of Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) - the main gateway to the Bahamas.
The Minnis administration has also demonstrated an enthusiasm to privatise and outsource functions that can be better performed by the private sector, in a bid to reduce the Government's $430 million annual subsidies to state-owned enterprises (SOEs), and Prince George Wharf is an asset that fits into this strategy.