By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
Bay Street retailers yesterday reacted furiously to revelations of Royal Caribbean's planned Paradise Island "beach break" destination, and questioned: "How will we survive?"
Leon Griffin, Treasure Bahamas general manager, told Tribune Business he was "p-----off" about the cruise line's efforts to combine Crown Land at Colonial Beach with private property it has already purchased.
Querying "how will Bay Street businesses survive" if Royal Caribbean's ambitions are realised, Mr Griffin said: "We depend solely on the cruise passengers and those who are residing in the hotels who come downtown to purchase.
"But if they have their own spot, like how they have got the different cays, and when you go on the different cays nobody else benefits except themselves [the cruise lines], how could the Government of The Bahamas allow such a thing to happen?"
"It's terrible. It's going to affect the whole of Bay Street whether we like it or not, and this government needs to rethink what they are doing because they are not thinking for the people. I'm p----- off about it to be honest with you. When I heard about it I didn't understand what they were doing, but now I realise. How could the government do something like that? They continue to give away the people's properties, and yet when Bahamians apply for crown land it's a hell to get through with."
Tribune Business exclusively revealed yesterday that Royal Caribbean has applied to lease around ten acres of the 17-acre crown land parcel on Paradise Island's western end, which it will combine with its acquisitions of private residential property to create a destination that will cater to the hundreds of thousands of passengers it will bring to Nassau annually.
This newspaper also reported complaints by Toby Smith, the Bahamian principal of Paradise Island Lighthouse & Beach Club Company, that the government was pressuring him to accept an "inferior" crown land parcel to the one contained in a lease agreement issued to him just two months ago so that Royal Caribbean's desires can be accommodated.
Michael Bayley, Royal Caribbean's chief executive, yesterday confirmed that the cruise giant plants to create a destination called the Royal Beach Club on Paradise Island's western tip, pledging that it would be a "win-win" for all concerned including Bahamians.
However, Royal Caribbean's plans and the government's actions raise multiple questions that have yet to be answered. Not least is the fact that the private properties that the cruise line has acquired are all residential, meaning that the area would have to be re-zoned for commercial use under planning laws. It is unlikely Royal Caribbean would have proceeded without assurances this would happen.
Carl Bethel QC, the attorney general, also told this newspaper yesterday that allowing Royal Caribbean to have its own private Paradise Island destination is required to improve the cruise visitor experience in Nassau, and effectively represents a trade-off for the increased port and tourist fees that will finance Prince George Wharf's $250m upgrade by Global Ports Holding.
However, this appears to directly contradict the strategy and rationale for embarking on the Nassau cruise port upgrade in the first place. It was billed as the catalyst for kick-starting the much-talked-about revival of Bay Street and the downtown Nassau area, improving the port's competitiveness, enticing more passengers off the ships and improving visitor spending yields with local businesses.
This could all be undermined if Royal Caribbean automatically directs, and takes, all its passengers to a destination that it controls on Paradise Island. Apart from uncertainty over whether Bahamians would have access, the cruise lines typically dictate marks-ups, margins and pricing to any locally-owned businesses that operate in their private locations.
Royal Caribbean's interest in having its own private destination in Nassau is thought to have been sparked by the success Atlantis has enjoyed in attracting cruise passengers to its water park on day passes. It now wants to retain all this income, and appears likely to end up competing directly with Bay Street and Bahamian-owned businesses to achieve this.
Mr Griffin, meanwhile, said: "I thought they were saying it's the people's time, by the people, for the people. How could they allow Minnis to do something like this?
"When Frank Watson (former deputy prime minister under the Hubert Ingraham administration) was in charge he allowed the cruise company to not work with the Bahamas Taxi Cab Union. So it was happening from that time, and the cruise ship people have become more greedy.
"What are they leaving here? When the tourist comes here he spends $50, if he spends that much, and then he goes. But everything is spent on the cruise ship and spent on the little islands that they have because they own the shops," he continued.
"They own everything, so why in the devil are we allowing them to come to The Bahamas in the first place if they are not helping the people? We have over 100 staff, we have to pay them every week and we still have to pay overhead expenses and all of that. How can Minnis do something like that?"
Mr Griffin called for Royal Caribbean's Paradise Island destination to become "null and void", adding: "The people should speak. The Government is not recognising the people. They are not recognising that power that they have belongs to the people and not them. They should come to the people. The people need to stand up. They need to go out there and they need to demonstrate against his government."
Thomas Ajeeb, general manager of Caribbean Silver International, told Tribune Business: "Obviously if they [Royal Caribbean] are going to be redirecting traffic that will affect us greatly. As it is now things are tough, so imagine one full cruise line completely bypassing the harbour and going straight to Paradise Island.
"There will be those that want to take a taxi drive to the Straw Market, so that's one saving grace, but that's people who want to take the effort to come. Typically cruise ships have way of keeping their customers and they will discourage people from venturing outside. It's going to negatively impact us.
"I don't think they should have been allowed to buy a part of Paradise Island. That's huge against us. I'm not sure how that's going to work once the new cruise port is renovated and up and running, but I am sure that the cruise port will have some special pull and influence over the cruise lines and they will still probably have them dock here for a day or two, but basically we will have to rely on the cruise port to support us in the meantime."
Maria Culmer, general manager of Bahamas T-Shirt Company, told Tribune Business: "Any ship that is not being ported out here on Prince George Wharf will affect our business. The Government should address this publicly. All of us need to eat, all of us are Bahamians, so all of us need to partake of all the cruise ships that come into the harbour. Not just Paradise Island."