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Carnival Chief: Nassau Needs More Than Port

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Nassau Cruise Port.

• Three-quarters refused to book tour pre-COVID

• Says ‘very little product’ to get passengers off-ship

• Fact ‘No.1 tour is hotel amenities tells you a lot’

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

A senior Carnival Corporation executive yesterday warned Nassau needs to improve more than just its port facilities given that three-quarters of passengers declined to book excursions pre-COVID.

Giora Israel, the cruise group’s senior vice-president for port and destination development, told Tribune Business the Bahamian capital must do far more to overhaul its “product” post-pandemic as the identity of its most popular tour, visits to locals hotels and their amenities, “tells you a lot”.

While praising the private-public partnership (PPP) with Global Ports Holding for Prince George Wharf’s $268m transformation, Mr Israel said he and other Carnival executives had repeatedly urged the government to constantly refresh Nassau’s attractions, excursions and tours offering if it was to rebuild its reputation as a leading tourism destination.

He explained that this was especially important as many of the passengers on Carnival’s three, four and five-night cruises through The Bahamas were repeat customers who had visited the city before, and therefore needed new and exciting activities to entice them off the ship.

“I think that the maritime improvements that are being done, adding strength to one of the piers and expanding another, are welcome,” Mr Israel told this newspaper of Nassau cruise port upgrades. “Enhancing the arrivals experience is welcome as well. We are encouraged these things are being done.”

Acknowledging that Carnival was part of a rival bid, with other major cruise lines, which lost out to Global Ports Holding for the cruise port contract, he warned that the cruise line’s praise came with “caveats” and that just enhancing the port by itself will not be enough to improve Nassau’s status as a cruise destination.

“One of the issues we’ve stated to the Bahamian government is what Nassau needs more than the maritime facilities is the enhancement of the destination for activities,” Mr Israel said. “Over the years there has been very little product to offer people coming again and again.

“It’s not the port itself, it’s the product; the availability of” new attractions and excursions for passengers on short-haul cruises who have visited Nassau before on previous trips. In the absence of new and upgraded products, Mr Israel added: “Prior to COVID-19, we were only able to sell 26 percent to 28 percent of passengers a tour.”

This, he added, meant that only 700-800 passengers on a 3,000-person cruise ship went on a tour or excursion, limiting the income and revenue earned by the Bahamian-owned tourism operators that typically populate this space.

“Some don’t get off the ship,” the Carnival executive added, as some perceived there was little to do in Nassau beyond shopping while others went off on their own sight-seeing.

“What a great destination needs, and it is true anywhere in the world, is that people come to a destination wanting things to do, tours and so on,” Mr Israel said. “There are some ports in the Caribbean that reinvent themselves and add new attractions.”

Emphasising that he spoke from personal experience, having spent four years in The Bahamas while developing the Coral World attraction that launched in 1984, he reiterated: “There’s very little product for hotel guests, tourists, and the fact the number one tour in The Bahamas is to go to the amenities of a hotel tells you a lot.”

Atlantis, in particular, developed a significant revenue stream from cruise passengers visiting its water park and other facilities on day passes prior to COVID-19. That will likely rebound once the cruise industry resumes sailing again, although such income may have to be split with Baha Mar once its $200m Baha Bay facility comes online this summer.

Mr Israel’s comments articulated long-standing cruise industry concerns and calls for The Bahamas’ to upgrade its product offering in both Nassau and Freeport, and will reignite fears that passenger spending and yields will not improve even with the new $268m cruise port.

That facility, besides food and beverage and retail offerings, will also include an amphitheatre acting as an entertainment venue for live concert and music events in a bid to entice the cruise ships to stay in port overnight.

While the weaknesses in the downtown Nassau/Bay Street tourism product have long been known, some in the Bahamian tourism industry will likely respond to Mr Israel’s comments by asserting that the decline has not been helped by the absence of a true partnership with the cruise lines.

They will point to the industry’s increased use of private islands ahead of Nassau and Freeport; the lines leaving their retail, restaurant and other facilities open while in port; restrictions on the mark-ups local operators are allowed; and the cruise sector’s move into this space with their own attractions such as Royal Caribbean’s proposed Paradise Island ‘beach break’ destination.

Meanwhile Marie McKenzie, Carnival’s global ports and Caribbean government relations vice-president, said the company and rest of the cruise ship industry were “not quite sure yet when we will start sailing” as they continue to work with the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on obtaining all the necessary COVID-19 health protocols.

Acknowledging that the process was “a little slow”, she added that the cruise industry and Caribbean nations had formed a working group to ensure that regional health protocols were uniform, aligned and did not vary between countries when the industry returned.

The Bahamas was part of this group, and Ms McKenzie said Carnival has engaged in direct talks with Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, and local health professionals on the protocols that will be followed. However, these measures will only be finalised once the CDC issues its own set of regulations to ensure there is conformity with the US.

Comments

tribanon 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Giora Israel and Carnival have not been and never will be friends of The Bahamas, period!

In fact, the way our downtown district looks today is mainly attributable to decades of shady deals by the very greedy cruise ship operators involving our corrupt politicians. The deals cut have enabled the cruise line companies like Carnival and Royal Caribbean to pocket for themselves just about every dollar spent by their passengers.

Their very greedy business model will never be conducive to the economic development of The Bahamas and the well-being of the Bahamian people. And you only have to look at the way they have treated their Filipino crew members during the Red China Virus to understand just how ruthless these cruise ship operators are. Words like "sharing" and "fairness" simply do not exist in their business vocabulary and never will.

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concerned799 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Maybe what Nassau needs is to rethink the entire permission of the cruise industry to come to the Bahamas. Then with the greater revenues it receives from visitors staying on hotels and greater employment from Bahamians working at hotels it will have the funds to regenerate itself. And if it doesn't, and all the tourists want to do is stay in their hotels and go to the beach, then you know what, fine, at least the Bahamas will have more money.

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newcitizen 1 month, 2 weeks ago

The guy bring up a valid point that our tourist offerings are pretty thin and you're response is that they should carry their ass? Maybe address the fact that what is says it true. Also, why would denying cruises cause more people to stay in hotels?

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concerned799 1 month, 1 week ago

If tourists can't visit the Bahamas by cruise ship, some significant portion of them will visit the Bahamas by overnight hotel stay. That is why throwing them out would help the Bahamas. Looked another way, what has decades of increasing cruise ship sizes and numbers got us? $10 billion or so in debt. The yield per cruise ship visitor even multiplied times infinity is not enough to run the Bahamas, the math does not add up. The main product the Bahamas has to sell is warm sun and sand and it makes no sense to sell it on the cheap! Building museums, theatres all the rest of it will not make material, game changing differences, tho at the margins its not a bad idea.

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newcitizen 1 month, 1 week ago

I have no problem kicking cruise ships out, but the people who go on cruises will no be flying here instead. The Bahamas is one stop our of 5-10 on a cruise. They won't care that Nassau is left off. But that's besides the fact that cruise passengers won't fly here because they are cheap, or they like cruises. They won't suddenly have the money for an Atlantis stay with their family just because we shut them out of sailing here.

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SP 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Firstly, Caribbean nations need to form a working group to ensure that regionally the cruise industry is properly regulated and policed more equitable to the benefit of resort destinations, instead of the cruise industry hogging up 80% of excursion tours by scaring tourist away from independent excursions because they don't profit from them!

Secondly, Bahamians with hands-on experience have been warning successive government administrations that our tourism product was dying for decades to absolutely no avail.

The powers that be never intended for average Bahamians to directly benefit from the tourism industry, which explains why today Bahamians do not own more of the tourism goose.

Especially without an MP's hands deep in your back pocket, there was absolutely NO WAY of getting into the mainstream tourist industry. We all know multiple individuals horror stories about people that presented opportunities to the government for excursions, only to be given the run around until they either stopped trying, or had the ideas stolen by MP's and given to friends, family, or lovers.

"The father of the nation" Prime minister Sir Lynden Pindling set the stage, and his proteges, Hubert Ingraham, and Perry Christie arrogantly followed his lead for the steady demise of tourism with heads held high, chest out, eyes wide open, brains off, and ears shut tight!

Despite a 1980's tourist departure survey pinpointing the lack of things to do as the worst part of a Bahamas vacation, successive "leaders" did absolutely nothing to resolve the problem.

A 1970 to 2020 comparison of tourism development between Nassau, Ft. Lauderdale, and Key West unquestionably reveals the Bahamas has been steadily moving backward. The fact is, there was more for tourists to do in Nassau in 1970 than there is today in 2021!

However, the icing on the cake is post-COVID-19, we will resume tourism with the same, or even worse broken 2020 product. We will have even more of the same bottom-of-the-barrel citizens on the front lines dealing with our tourists. Jet ski operators, hair braiders, hustlers, unimaginably rude & crooked taxi drivers, filthy inner-city, too few tours, etc'.

No politician will admit the country did not miraculously evolve to where we now find ourselves. We are where we are now because poor leadership lead us to this juncture.

How do we fix 50 years of systemic corruption, greed, and gross stupidity in a few short months?

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concerned799 1 month, 1 week ago

Yield per overnight tourist is around $1000

Yield per cruise ship visitor is around $50

Even if you captured more of that $50, made it $60, made it $70 its still a horrible equation for the Bahamas to be in. Get rid of the equation. Kick out the cruise ships and we'll see more overnight visitors and get the $1000 yields this country needs to run itself without going into endless default and dispair and disrepair.

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Proguing 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Any news on the damage to the sea beds by Carnival?

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jus2cents 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Better tourists and better tourist experiences & expectations will manifest if we aim higher, getting rid of the cruise industry will help us to aim higher.

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SP 1 month, 2 weeks ago

No need to cut off our noses to spite our faces. The cruise industry should be limited to how many ships/passengers are allowed in port at any given time.

This would encourage more stay over visitors leading to greater in-resort spending and all around higher profits for the country.

Continuing to prostitute the country for the greedy cruise industry is a waste of time, environmentally disastrous and just stupid. But then our "leaders" thrive on stupid, so expect more of the same failing policies that brought us to nowhere!

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concerned799 1 month, 1 week ago

Limiting is a good idea, but our workers can not fairly compete with overseas cruise workers who have no union and get like $2/hour. So its unfair competition. And the cruise lines pay no tax, dump at sea etc. So its unfair competition and very non sustainable. Better solution is just to bar them totally. Then the private sector will invest in more hotels without cruise lines to compete against them.

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Alan1 1 month, 2 weeks ago

The main problem we will face when cruise ships do return is to find tourists willing to come on a cruise which involves a stay in The Bahamas. Right now our Tourism Minister has stated that he will not relax travel protocols for quite awhile. It is very complicated, expensive and time consuming to enter The Bahamas now with a short five day period from a test ( if a health centre can be found) to arrival. It is made more difficult with the bureaucratic Health Visa and the uncertainty of when permission to travel will be forthcoming. There are also so few flights. No wonder tourism has declined so steeply. People are unwilling to go through all these hassles. Can anyone think that cruise passengers would be willing to go through all these procedures? Yet our cruise personnel, tourism staff, hoteliers and even business people have not complained about these requirements which are destroying our major business. It is hard to believe .

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Economist 1 month, 2 weeks ago

We need to focus on encouraging the high end cruiselines and discourage the garbage Carnival cruises. Carnival's passengers never have spent any money in any event. What money they have Carnival sucks up on the ship.

Bay Street once had high end shops and nice restaurants until the cheap cruise line passenger masses scared off the money spending hotel tourists.

Bermuda has been much more selective when it comes to cruise lines. We could learn something from Bermuda.

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concerned799 1 month, 1 week ago

The French islands bar them (cruise ships) for a reason. Its a fool's errand to chase ever more volume with ever less spend on island. Better to just focus on fewer tourists spending vastly more per visitor than chase declining returns while all the while the nation loses negotiating power with the cruise lines. After they own 90% of the Caribbean tourism market you will be a country in name only and have to take what crumbs they decide we should get. We need a strong hotel tourism industry under Bahamian regulation its the only way the tourism product can be protected and allowed to bring in the high spends per visitor the country needs.

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C2B 1 month, 2 weeks ago

According to this article, a 3 day Carnival cruise for a family of 4 costs $950.00. What activity can we possibly offer people on this type of budget? Dinner for 4 In Nassau will cost a third of the cruise cost. Visiting dolphins at Atlantis will cost half the cruise cost. Even the horses buggies are expensive for this crowd.

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