By YOURI KEMP
CRYSTAL Cruises’ president has sought to allay fears that this summer’s planned visits to Exuma and Harbour Island don’t fit the islands’ tourism model and believes locals will “support” his company’s initiative.
Jack Anderson, interim president and chief executive officer of Crystal Cruises, told Tribune Business the cruise line is “working with many local partners in The Bahamas to ensure our current plans for Luxury Bahamas Escapes are aligned with the best interests of the island communities we will visit.”
He said: “We met with local leaders in Exuma on Monday this week to listen to concerns and share key information about ourselves and our guests. We are finding that the support and enthusiasm for the itineraries and the benefits they will bring are growing once more people understand the Crystal Difference. We will also be holding community town halls in the next few weeks to further the open dialogue and communicate the nuances that make Crystal different from the enormous, mass market ships.”
Crystal Cruises’ intention to sale to Harbour Island and Exuma has been met with aa frosty response from businesses on both islands who say they don’t want cruise ship passengers or large cruise ships docking in their harbours.
Crystal Cruises started marketing their Luxury Bahamas Escape Itinerary on March 18 with Harbour Island and Exuma slated firmly as destinations.
Mr Anderson said: “It’s important to note that the ship we are bringing to The Bahamas, Crystal Serenity, is significantly smaller than mass market, ‘mega’ cruise ships, accommodating less than a quarter of the number of guests of such mega ships and offering a true luxury all-inclusive cruising experience. She also accommodates just a fraction of the number of guests compared to ships of similar size and the ship will also be operating at a reduced capacity of 900 guests (normally the ship accommodates 980).
“Crystal’s guests are sophisticated and well-travelled. Their average age is 55-64, they are college-educated and are professionals. They have three or more foreign trips over the past three years and some of them have sailed with us hundreds of times. They typically visit a destination several times after a cruise, staying in hotels and B&Bs and have a second or vacation home. They are the perfect target market guest of islands such as Great Exuma and Harbour Island.
“They travel seeking connection with the destinations and authentic experiences far different from those offered with mass market cruise lines. We are confident that their spirit of discovering the heart of each destination, combined with Crystal’s meticulous planning, rigorous and robust health and safety protocols and experiences offered including a well-developed capacity control plan to bring people ashore, will contribute to successful visits in The Bahamas positively impacting the islands’ local economies.
Crystal Cruises has won many accolades from various international travel journals, with cruise critic rating it at “very good” with 4.2 out of 5 stars and US News and World Report saying that in 2020, “Crystal also separates itself from other luxury liners with its low passenger-to-crew ratio, which allows for more personalized service.”
Mr Anderson continued: “As we continue our discussions with the local communities we will, of course, review our current itinerary plan and adjust to befit the best interests of all. “We have had a wonderful response to our announced plans of delivering a 100 percent all-Bahamas experience and our valued guests are looking forward to sailing again after more than a year away from our ships and their beloved officers and crew.
“We are confident that a large majority of residents and businesses on these islands will support our entry into the market. We understand that it is incumbent upon us to curate all elements of the itineraries, taking into consideration the most beneficial plans for all parties involved. Our team has worked hard to ensure that Crystal Serenity’s calls will help support local businesses without overwhelming them, while offering our guests memorable experiences.
“We also have plans in place to provide supplemental infrastructure in certain ports when and where it is needed,” said Mr Anderson, addressing something that is a concern to Exuma businessmen worried about the possibility of massive construction and dredging at the harbour.
Mr Anderson said: “I read a comment about dredging… and I want to assure you and your readers that there will be no dredging at all. We will be at anchorage in the Family Islands and we are working closely with Commander [Berne] Wright on our positions. Crystal Serenity will be helmed by Captain Vorland Birger, a 17-year veteran of Crystal and he has more than 45 years of mariner experience. The Captain and the Bridge officers will utilize electronic charts as well as local yachting charts and will use sonar technology to monitor our position at all times.
“In an effort to reach out to local Bahamian entrepreneurs for potential partnerships, we are working on a portal specific to our new Luxury Bahamas Escape itinerary. When vendors click on the web link, it will take them to a landing page on our website where we will give an overview of what we are looking for with these partnerships, and then allow them to submit their contact information and overview of their business proposal. This will be launched very soon.
“It is also our responsibility to effectively communicate the benefits that we will bring, and we look forward to presenting our vision with the Bahamian residents and local entities before we arrive in July.
“Our itinerary planning team is always reviewing potential destinations for our guests and will we share any changes to our announced plans as appropriate.”
Taking COVID-19 into consideration Mr Anderson said that they will spread guests around the island by “staggering tour departure times,” which he feels would control the number of guests on-island at any time.
“Guests going ashore will be limited by the capacity and frequency of the tenders. We can control the speed of the tender operations so there is a limited flow of guests arriving on the island and Crystal Cruises will never have two tenders ashore at any given time.
“We find that 100 to 200 guests usually choose to stay aboard the vessel per call.”
He concluded: “We recognize the immense privilege we have to explore the waters around the world and deliver unforgettable experiences for our guests. With this privilege comes the responsibility to operate with the greatest care in the communities and destinations we visit. We are committed to being responsible corporate citizens and respecting our world’s resources and the cultures we encounter.”