By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The revival of Nassau’s cruise port and downtown “must run in parallel”, the Chamber of Commerce’s chief executive urged yesterday, and reverse the slide in passenger experience.
Jeffrey Beckles, pictured, told Tribune Business that Global Ports Holding’s planned $250m transformation of Prince George Wharf “cannot be treated as a separate project and run miles apart” from the wider effort to resurrect Bay Street and the wider downtown economy.
Emphasising that the two initiatives had to be integrated, and treated akin to “hand in glove”, given that both will feed off each other, Mr Beckles said there was little use in offering a fantastic cruise port experience that was not matched by the rest of the destination.
He added that the government’s selection of Global Ports Holding as the preferred bidder, and rejection of the offer that was backed by the cruise lines, would not result in any “fall-out” in terms of reduced calls on Nassau.
Pointing to Nassau’s importance to the cruise industry, despite the rapid expansion of its Bahamian private island network, Mr Beckles said the Bahamian capital had been good to the sector and will continue to produce profits/returns for many years to come.
The chamber chief added that the Nassau cruise port’s upgrade was especially critical given the increase in cruise passenger visitors to The Bahamas, as the rise in volume was not being matched by the quality of their experiences - which have been “trending downwards”.
“The government has obviously made a decision that reflects a more substantive and robust plan for the redevelopment of the port,” Mr Beckles told Tribune Business of Global Ports Holding’s selection.
“From that end it’s exciting, and we’re just hopeful Global Ports Holding delivers on its commitment. We have every confidence they will. We’re just happy a decision has been made because our cruise passenger numbers continue to go up but the experience is going in the opposite direction for any number of reasons.
“As soon as we abate that downward trend in customer experiences we should see an improvement in cruise passengers coming on shore, spending money and Bay Street and the economy see some real injection.”
Mr Beckles, calling on Bahamians to prepare themselves for the entrepreneurial opportunities that will flow from the cruise port’s overhaul, added that neither Global Ports Holding’s project - nor the wider transformation of downtown Nassau - would be successful without the other enjoying a similar fate.
“I don’t think one’s going to be successful without the other,” he told Tribune Business. “We will realise some gains with the port but, at the same time, have to have redevelopment of downtown Nassau.
“If we’re going to make this effort with the port to develop a real destination experience and, 100 feet away, we don’t improve the downtown experience..... They must run in parallel. Then, and only then, will we see a real impact from an economic standpoint.
“Once people get off the ship because of this new, exciting experience in port and get into a Bay Street that’s clean, alive, well managed and says ‘come hang out with me’ people will spend their money. They have to run parallel; they can’t be two separate projects and run miles apart.”
Fears had been expressed previously that the cruise lines may simply choose to bypass Nassau, and call solely on their private island destinations, if their alliance with Cruise Ports International, the Bahamian investor group, in the Port of Nassau Partnership proposal was rejected by the Government.
Mr Beckles, though, argued that such concerns were overblown. He said: “The cruise lines are acutely aware of how important Nassau has been to them and their bottom line. I don’t see there being any fall-out.
“There may have been some hurt over the bidding process, but economics rise to the top and will govern their behaviour. They are still deeply involved in their private islands, which have been extremely profitable for them. The fact they did not get the port development will not hurt them per se.
“They have a foothold in The Bahamas, and this port for them will generate returns for many years to come.”
The Government is eyeing a 25-year lease deal with Global Ports Holding for the operation, management and redevelopment of Nassau’s cruise port, although the commercial terms and other details will have to be negotiated between the two sides during a period expected to last between 60-120 days.
The UK-listed, Turkish headquartered port operator is proposing to add two new berths to accommodate the world’s largest cruise ships, taking the total from six to eight, while also filling in the space between the harbourfront and existing first cruise berth to create land for its amphitheatre events destination.
All retail, restaurant and other vendors in the port area will be Bahamian-owned, and it will feature a Junkanoo museum to showcase this nation’s culture and history. An “open air amphitheatre” will feature local and international concerts, shows and special events, which will “create an incentive” for cruise ships to stop in port. Laser-light shows will be one feature at night, while taxi drivers and tour operators will have better access to passengers.