By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Nassau Cruise Port’s top executive yesterday pledged that Prince George Wharf’s $268m transformation will “ignite the fuse” to spark the downtown improvement both Bahamians and cruise lines desire.
Michael Maura told Tribune Business that “while no one will disagree there’s room for improvement”, converting downtown Nassau and Bay Street into a city destination attractive to locals and visitors alike will require significant investment and time.
Explaining that Nassau Cruise Port and its controlling shareholder, Global Ports Holding, were taking the long-term view alongside the Government and other stakeholders, Mr Maura said comments by Giora Israel, Carnival Group’s senior vice-president for port and destination development, that the Bahamian capital needs to upgrade its product offering are nothing new.
“He is speaking to comments, in my opinion, that Carnival has offered to the Government for the last several years around the need to improve the product; that downtown was dirty and old, and there needed to be more interesting things to do; a fresh reason for passengers to disembark the ship,” he explained.
“When you consider what he is saying, I don’t think anyone would disagree that there’s room for improvement, but it takes time and it takes money to make that kind of improvement and investment. We as Bahamians, no one wants a better product than the residents of New Providence. But these things take time.”
Mr Maura continued: “We have to have that catalyst, that trigger, that fuse that, when it ignites, it causes other things to happen. We have to have a catalyst, we have to have something that starts it all. That is the development we are undertaking, which is going to be that catalyst.
“Our port is going to be the catalyst to cause people to improve their product, and improve that piece of land on Bay Street or building they own. It’s going to cause a lot of creativity around the development of new excursions. We know there aren’t any other Caribbean waterfront cities I’m aware of at this time that will match what happens in Nassau over the next year or two.”
Mr Maura said the failure of the shipping companies’ relocation from Bay Street to Arawak Cay almost ten years ago, which had been demanded by the cruise ships, to spark a downtown turnaround by itself showed the need to take a long-term approach.
The enhanced cruise port, 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.
Mr Israel had 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.
“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.