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Gov't To 'Get Cracking' On Cruise Shake-Up

Cruise ships in port at Nassau. Photo: Captain-tucker/Wikimedia

Cruise ships in port at Nassau. Photo: Captain-tucker/Wikimedia

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Tourism Minister yesterday pledged to "get cracking" on Prince George Wharf's overhaul, revealing that cruise ship crew spend more in St Maarten than their passengers do in Nassau.

Dionisio D'Aguilar told Tribune Business that "the time has come to put pen to paper" on the transformation of Nassau's cruise port, and its outsourcing to private sector management, with St Maarten illustrating just how much the Bahamas needs to improve.

Speaking after himself and Frankie Campbell, minister of transport, returned from a 'fact finding' mission to the Caribbean's highest-yielding cruise destination, Mr D'Aguilar said the Bahamas had yet to unlock "the power of cruise ship crew" to influence passenger perceptions of this destination. Revealing that the ministerial duo visited St Maarten at the suggestion of cruise line executives, a number of whom accompanied them on the trip, the Minister of Tourism said he was constantly told that ships' crews can help 'make or break' a destination.

Agreeing that crew, especially those involved with promoting the different Caribbean destinations, needed to be "sold on the Bahamas" and "won over to our side", Mr D'Aguilar said the fact cruise personnel spend more per capita in St Maarten than their customers do in Nassau showed the extent of the task facing this nation.

"One thing they've [St Maarten] targeted, which we don't seem to be able to tap into at all, is the crew on these ships," he told Tribune Business. "A comment by one of the cruise line executives was their crew spend more in St Maarten per capita than our cruise passengers spend per capita in Nassau.

"We don't tap into, recognise the crew as an important segment. The cruise executives emphasised constantly that if their crew enjoy and like a destination, and talk that to the passengers, that helps your destination. If the crew don't like the your destination, or do not find it reasonable in terms of expenditure and things to do, they talk down your destination."

Previous reports by the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA), which represents the major cruise lines that call on the Bahamas, described crew perceptions of this nation as 'been there, seen it, done it', meaning that they find little new or exciting to do when voyage itineraries take them to Nassau.

The impact this has in depressing visitor spending was disclosed in the last Caribbean cruise economic impact assessment, which revealed that St Maarten's per passenger yield of $191.26 is almost three times' greater than the Bahamas' $64 average.

Data published by the Central Bank shows that despite a 23.7 per cent increase in cruise passenger arrivals from 2010 to 2016, rising from 3.8 million to 4.7 million per annum, total spending has remained stubbornly at $300 million. This is because per passenger spending yields have fallen from $78 to $64 over the same period, a drop of 18 per cent.

Mr D'Aguilar has targeted an increase in spending yields as a priority, and yesterday said it was critical for the Bahamas to win over onboard marketing directors who inform cruise passenger about the activities available in each Caribbean destination.

"While we hear these complaints all the time that passengers are informed the Bahamas is not safe, don't take too much money with you and that it's not an interesting destination," he told Tribune Business.

"The cruise lines say it doesn't happen, but we have to focus on the cruise ship directors on every ship, and make sure we develop a relationship with them. We have to drill down to a granular level to these individuals to find out what their concerns are and sell them on the Bahamas.

"It's very important that persons on the ship interacting with the passengers; it's very important to have them on side. It seems as if the crew on these ships like St Maarten as a destination."

Mr D'Aguilar said he had identified "a number of issues" that make St Maarten the region's highest per capita cruise spending destination, including a pleasant shopping environment where passengers were not hassled or bothered by vendors, hawkers and others to make purchases.

Suggesting that the Bahamas' Caribbean rival had created a seamless experience and flow of passengers between destination and cruise port, Mr D'Aguilar suggested this nation needed to examine its tax structure for shopping - including duty-free retailing - and the provision of a quality beach near Prince George Wharf.

"We need to look at what tourists buy and how we can affect our tax structure to allow them to spend more," he told Tribune Business. "In St Maarten, they do a lot of electronics sales. There's the perfume and jewellery, and they have no duty on clothes.

"Persons come from far and wide in the southern Caribbean to buy clothes because it's inexpensive. Another takeaway is the wonderful set-up they have that allows people to shop and stroll at their own pace in an environment where there aren't people bothering you to buy this and buy that."

Mr D'Aguilar said research showed that 70 per cent of cruise passengers on Caribbean voyages were seeking a beach experience, meaning that the Bahamas needed to offer a suitable destination in close proximity to Nassau's cruise port.

He suggested that Junkanoo Beach, stretching all the way to Arawak Cay, needed to be improved, but added that upgrading the experience will come second to sorting out Prince George Wharf as the main cruise gateway to the Bahamas.

While the Government's plan to adopt the 'NAD model', and outsource the port's management to the private sector, has not altered, Mr D'Aguilar said it has yet to determine the best structure for doing so.

Arawak Port Development Company (APD), the BISX-listed Nassau Container Port operator, and its prospective joint venture partner, Global Port Holdings, the world's largest cruise port manager, have made no secret of their desire to bid, but the Minister yesterday indicated no release of a formal Request for Proposal (RFP) tender is imminent.

"This is something we urgently want to do, get fixed and get cracking on," Mr D'Aguilar told Tribune Business. "This is one of the projects we want to work on. We're at the stage of having done the research, and now have to put pen to paper on the way forward.

"We're still in the preliminary stages, and trying to ascertain what the best strategy is to manage the port. We're not at that point where we can make any comment; it's still in the development stages. We haven't come to a definite way forward, how we structure it in the best interests of the country.

"Whatever deal we strike has to be in the best interests of the country and the destination. We have to get the balance right. It'll be done in short order."

Mr D'Aguilar said the Government was assessing various public-private partnership (PPP) and management models to determine which was most suitable, pointing to the '10 per cent Internal Rate of Return' minimum that was embedded in APD's set-up as one example.

"It was very clever," he added of APD. "You're giving someone a monopoly to run an asset of the state, but you do not want them to realise abnormal returns.

"Those are the things we're looking at, and what works here to get the investment we need, attract the capital, but ensure we remain a reasonably priced destination. We want the private sector to run it because that seems to have been successful."

Comments

killemwitdakno 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Port hostess is always the plug.

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John 5 months, 3 weeks ago

First of all, there is only ONE Bahamas and with almost 1,000 cruise ships currently under construction, the days of the Bahamas going out to beg cruise lines to bring their cruise ships here are a thing of the past. Secondly, those cruise ships that do come here and their crew tell them not to shop in The Bahamas or even not to bring money off the ship and also those who do not allow straw work on their ships must be eliminated from the Bahamas route. Let them dump their garbage and their sewerage elsewhere! And finally the government must pump more millions into the downtown, Junkanoo Beach and Montagu areas to ensure that the cruise ship experience is as good as staying in any major hotel in the country, the beaches are always clean, safe and accessible. The downtown area was killed dead when hotels decided to go all inclusive or find even deceptive ways to keep their guests on campus. To rebuild downtown around cruise ship passengers they ships will have to spend more than a few hours in port. Night life must be unique and since most cruises provide their passengers with up to seven feedings a day, food must be unique, exotic but yet inexpensive. And since there is now no shortage of cruise ships or passengers, yes the cruise port experience must be one that draws passengers off the ships, enticed them to spend money and encourages them to return as repeat visitors. And you cannot just fix downtown and leave it. It has to be a constantly evolving and regenerating creature.

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Chucky 5 months, 3 weeks ago

John you are sadly mistaken about 1000 cruise ships currently under construction. The top 9 largest cruise lines have a total of 40 on order. Carnival is the largest cruise line in the world with 25 ships.
If you think there are another 40 cruise lines coming online with 25 ships each, you'd be sadly mistaken. Please tell me why it is that we always talk about this problem and that problem as though the dock, or the beach, or the stores, or the proximity to amenities are our biggest problems. I think we all know that we need to fix the attitudes of our people before we can improve any tourist attractions. To fix the attitudes, were likely going to need 20 years of education improvement, (and that time starts when we actually improve education, noting no progress being made currently).
If we can't even admit to these being our bigger problems, we will never amount to anything.
I've been to nearly every Caribbean destination over the last 20 some years, and never ever have I witnessed the attitude that we Bahamians give out

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johnmcntsh 5 months, 3 weeks ago

You also must have a very clean beach close by with clean, easy and safe walk to the beach. No empty shops and closed building to walk by.. Clean, clean, clean! Spotless. Look on Youtube for travels down Front St. in Martinique. Also compare this. http://portshoppingspree.com/port-of-call/st-maarten/

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rawbahamian 5 months, 3 weeks ago

You come off of the ships and you are met right at Festival Place with foul mouthed vendors offering " made in China " items or outrageously priced services or rentals or God forbid, you venture out to the " made in China straw market " to be harrassed by hair braiders wearing ankle bracelets or selling "knock off" cheap shit for over the top prices or you get brave and go all the way to Junkanoo Beach to be plied with drug dealers right opposite the Police station that is manned by overweight, lazy, cell phone toting policemen who are too busy watsapping ! And the ships crew is gonna suggest you come ashore because of ...

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sheeprunner12 5 months, 3 weeks ago

The cruise ships must be encourage to stop at EACH of the Out Islands ........ as they do in the Pacific .......... There is too much focus on Nassau and Freeport ........ and the private cruise cays MUST be eliminated or taxed heavily to offset the lack of contact with the Bahamian economy.

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CuriousAbaconian 5 months, 3 weeks ago

That's one point of view. I for one don't want them in Abaco. Our tourism product is unique and our visitors are attracted here because of the lack of cruise ship/cookie-cutter "tourism"

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ashley14 5 months, 3 weeks ago

That would be great if they went to the out islands! I believe that would be very popular. Unfortunately when people exit the cruise ship in Nassau they are met with attitude. Some Bahamians seem to not like Americans. I think they believe that we are all rich. Which isn't true. Most American's have a lot of debt. There are a lot of rich, but the average American is middle class waiting on the next pay check. I don't mind the vendors or even the hair braiders, as long as they are polite. Sometimes I get my hair braided, especially if it's real humid or I know I'm going to be in the water a lot. Just be respectful and everyone will get along. If the American is a ass, ignore them. It shows their intelligence, or be a ass back. I really don't blame you.

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BahamaPundit 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Just was Down Town and it looked like a giant , sprawling Crack House, infested with junky Japanese used cars like roaches and rats. Cars should be prohibited on down town Bay Street. Further, painting and repairing of shops and buildings should be mandatory, or the Government will confiscate the shop/building.

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sheeprunner12 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Agreed ......... First step is to get traffic off Bay Street ...... Then rebrand the wharf and shop fronts ......... then make Bay Street a duty-free shopping and cultural mecca like New Orleans - from Arawak Cay to Potters Cay.

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Dawes 5 months, 3 weeks ago

I agree cars need to be off Bay street, but how would that occur. We would still need a two lane road going west to east for those cars. Where would it be? I can only think they would have to build a new road right through areas near shirley street, which due to the cost won't happen. This of course makes turning bay street into a pedestrian area a long term solution. Quicker ones would be to ban parking on Bay, have a free bus service to safe car parks outside of nassau, along with a toll to enter nassau so people would rather use the free bus (though those passing through would not like this). Also make sure there are bathrooms to be used (at night especially) as in the morning down town stinks of piss. Finally clean up the sidewalks with something that lasts longer then a week or two, clean the lamp polls and trees as there are still wires from the 1980's hanging on them

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BahamaPundit 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Dawes. It sounds like you are serious about change. Don't give up. Get rid of cars on Bay Street period. Trust me. Our tourism product is suffering and worth the short term pain of relocating them.

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TheMadHatter 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Ive been to St Maarten - both French & Dutch sides and i can say without any doubt that we have not even a prayer of ever being as good as they are. You cannot import Haitian culture and wind up with St. Maarten's excellent international culture. The Bahamas is trying to become exactly like Haiti so the Tourism Minister may as well go back to taking coins out dem washer.

Secondly, the phrase that explains everything in this article is "We're still in the preliminary stages, and trying to ascertain what the best strategy is..."

In other words, we havent yet put together a $400M package that we can skim $200M out of and give yall the crumbs that ga rust.

Why won't this govt give a Bahamian contractor like $70,000 to tidy up and paint etc. Montagu? Why not give someone a $5000/month contact to keep clean the shorline and sidewalks from Bahamar to Eastern Road. I would do it myself personally for that which is only $70g per year. Why not other similar painting and water drainage etc contracts throughout our flooding downtown?

Why?

Cause small (less than $100g/year) contracts don't leave any room for skimming like how when we buy an old broke-up generator for BEC from Austria that they selling for $3M but we pay $12M for it and split the 9 all around.

That's why we will NEVER be like St. Maarten. Govt don't wanna deal with less than $10M lump sums -so get those dreams out ya head.

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sheeprunner12 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Sooooooo, you think there is no corruption in French/Dutch St. Martin??? ...... Did you see the aftermath of last year hurricanes on these places?????

They are colonies of First World countries ......... who abandoned them too.

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BahamaPundit 5 months, 3 weeks ago

TheMadHatter. I agree with you. The problem is also that our Government and people are secretly racist against whites. Why would white tourists want to come to a place that secretly, and not so secretly, hates them. Bahamians need to change their Black Lives Matter attitude and learn to be loving hosts or we will lose everything!!!

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BahamaPundit 5 months, 3 weeks ago

When I say racist, I mean that they are trying to model Haiti and Jamaica rather than colonies such as Bermuda, Cayman etc. What the hell are we doing with these loser countries???

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Sickened 5 months, 3 weeks ago

So right! We set the bar very low and still don't get over it. We, as a collective, are destined to fail if we don't think bigger and better. We are so happy with what we consider mediocre BUT our mediocre is a fail everywhere except Haiti, Jamaica and dozens of African countries. We try so hard NOT to be like that white man!

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sucteeth 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Problem is the lack of accountability in everything in Bahamas. It starts at the top with all the thieves and down to the straw vendors and drug dealers. We as a nation are getting worse than better..

Starts with our education system or lack of. When the national average is a D at best its hard to train someone to be competitive with others in different countries. Bahamians always want the quick buck and are extremely lazy and disrespectful.

Go to Cayman or St. Maarteen they have let foreigners in to set up shop and investments and thus have thrived. They know how to treat tourists as it is their bread and butter. Their immigration system makes it very easy to come and set up shop.

I have businesses in Bahamas and Cayman. Cayman is easier to do business and encourage investment. Bahamas always are looking for handouts and ways to make it difficult to do business and very racist.

We as a nation need to look in the mirror slap ourselves in the face and wake the f__k up !!

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