By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Nassau cruise port's operator is aiming to "double the yield" from passenger spending once the facility's transformation into a destination product is completed by the 2022 first quarter.
Michael Maura, Nassau Cruise Port Ltd's chief executive, told Tribune Business yesterday that "millions of dollars" have already been invested in the design, engineering and environmental studies that will lay the foundation for Prince George Wharf's overhaul over a 24-month period.
Detailing a series of construction milestones that are critical to revitalising the main gateway to The Bahamas for some 3.5m cruise passengers annually, Mr Maura predicted that the project would be a "game changer" for the wider Bay Street and downtown Nassau area.
He said the waterfront's revival would deliver a sufficiently strong product to entice Atlantis and Baha Mar guests, as well as Bahamians and residents, back to the downtown area to enjoy live entertainment, an interactive Junkanoo experience, and improved retail and food and beverage offerings centred on "authentically" local products.
Emphasising that the cruise port's retail offering will seek to complement, rather than compete with, Bay Street merchants, Mr Maura said Nassau Cruise Port and its 49 percent owner, Global Ports Holding, were also working closely with stakeholders such as the taxi drivers to bring order and discipline to call-up systems so that all gained a fair share of the tourist trade.
Confirming that the 2022 first quarter is "the target" for construction completion, Mr Maura said Nassau was on the "front line" of the global cruise industry's rapid expansion and needed to improve its product to attract higher-spending passengers for the benefit of Bahamian-owned merchants and their employees.
"One hundred and twenty new cruise ships are hitting the water between now and 2017, and we are at the front door of that," he told this newspaper. "We want to help the cruise lines attract a customer that spends more money, and we're going to do that by improving the destination."
While few would dispute that Nassau's cruise port and the surrounding Bay Street area is in need of major regeneration, some observers will likely question whether the cruise lines will continue calling so frequently on the Bahamian capital given the attractions of their nearby private island network that is set to expand further with the Carnival and Royal Caribbean projects in Freeport.
Still, Anthony Ferguson, principal of CFAL, the financial advisers to Nassau Cruise Port, yesterday said the number of passengers passing through Nassau's cruise port was forecast to surge to more than 4m in 2023 - the first full year after the redevelopment is completed.
While current cruise passenger per capita spending yields are disputed, with the cruise lines pegging this at around $130 and local statistics putting it at $70, Mr Ferguson said Nassau Cruise Port's $250 target represented a major increase either way.
"The statistics we have put it around $70m" Mr Ferguson told Tribune Business. "We're looking in the first instance to increase that to $250. If it's accurate that the number is $130 we will look to double that yield.
"The numbers are huge, but we need the product in the port to attract people to spend more money. If we're only selling t-shirts we're not going to get $250. A lot of entrepreneurs, young and existing, should benefit substantially from this."
Mr Maura added: "That's not to our benefit; that's to the community's benefit by spending on taxis and tours. I think this will be a game changer for downtown when it's finished.... People will come to Nassau just to see the waterfront.
"I believe we will, as much money as Atlantis has put into securing every dollar their guests come to Nassau with, find our incredibly unique waterfront experience is going to cause people to leave Atlantis and come downtown, and I believe we will see the same at Baha Mar.
"If you look at the design of the entire space, the approach we're taking is one of destination, promoting the destination and not necessarily the cruise port. The type of thought going into the retail, entertainment and food and beverage is promoting downtown, not the cruise port," he added.
"We're not trying to displace retail on Bay Street. Everything that you're going to see is going to add value, a new type of experience that will cause people to want to come downtown.
"We're working with the retail operators at Festival Place in terms of their branding, and to have something that's authentic and uniquely Bahamian, so we're looking to help them create those products made by Bahamian hands and artisans."
Mr Maura said the revamped cruise port will also feature an interactive Junkanoo experiences, where visitors could participate in creating actual costumes as well as learning about its history via a museum.
The Nassau Cruise Port chief said it was also planning to take over where the Downtown Nassau Partnership (DNP) had left off on the proposed multi-storey parking lot on Kelly family land just to the east of Prince George Wharf.
The ground floor will be dedicated to a taxi rest and call-up area, Mr Maura said, with drivers having a counter or "sales desk" in the new cruise port terminal where passengers can acquire their services.
As for the Government, he added that it will still receive its present $18 per passenger taxes and fees plus a minimum $2m annual lease payment during the construction phase. Mr Maura explained this was a baseline figure that could be higher, as the sum the Government receives will be whichever is higher - the $2m, or 50 cents per cruise ship passenger.
The annual rent increases to $2.5m per year once Prince George Wharf's transformation is complete, and Mr Maura said: "It's a 25-year concession. The Government retains ownership of the land without giving up a penny.
"The Government, the people are getting a $250m investment downtown which has economic benefits to labour, commerce, commercial citizens and their employees, who all benefit as a result of this investment."