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Minister tells cruise lines: ‘Don’t dump’ on Nassau

Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar.

Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar.

• Hits ‘insurmountable thresholds’ for local firms

• Ships too eager to get excursion ‘piece of pie’

• Industry must play its part to improve product

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

A Cabinet minister yesterday urged the cruise lines to “not dump on the destination” given that they often created “insurmountable thresholds” for Bahamian entrepreneurs to do business with them.

Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, told Tribune Business he wanted to give “a little bit of push back” to recent criticisms by Carnival Cruise Lines executives that Nassau lacked fresh product - particularly new and exciting attractions and tours - to entice passengers off their ships when the industry eventually returns post-COVID-19.

Calling for a more equal partnership between The Bahamas and the cruise industry, Mr D’Aguilar said the latter’s practice of adding its own mark-up to the fee levied by Bahamian providers was effectively pricing local tours and excursions out of the market.

Arguing that it was unfair for the cruise lines to solely blame this nation, and that they also needed to adjust their own practices, he added that their mark-ups often gave passengers the impression there was “no value for money” in leaving the ship for shore-based attractions.

Mr D’Aguilar urged the cruise industry to curb its desire for a cut of shore excursion revenue so that the experiences offered by Bahamian entrepreneurs “gain traction and reputation”, while acknowledging that the government and private sector must work together to ensure this nation fulfills its side of the bargain.

Responding to assertions by Giora Israel, Carnival Group’s senior vice-president for port and destination development, the minister told this newspaper: “What we sometimes find is that the threshold to get into business with the cruise companies is insurmountable for a number of people.

“There’s the level of insurance you need, and their take from their guests. If you are selling something for $30, they may want to sell it to their passengers for $60. They’re putting the price point too high, and therefore the customers feel they won’t get value.

“I always try to encourage the cruise companies not to demand so much from their customers; let’s get the business up and running for it to get a reputation and demonstrate good value for money before you decide to take on a bit extra so you can make much more from your passengers going on these excursions,” Mr D’Aguilar continued.

“It’s not enough to dump the entire problem on the destination. We also need the cruise companies to facilitate and assist in helping these businesses to get traction before they demand a greater piece of the pie.”

The cruise lines’ selling of shore tours, excursions, attractions and things to do in port has long been a controversial subject among Bahamian providers, merchants and vendors. Concerns have been raised in the past that the vessels’ on-board marketing initiatives direct passengers to certain providers while others are excluded.

And the mark-ups charged by the cruise lines, when they sell Bahamian operators’ products to passengers on board, have been another sore point as indicated by Mr D’Aguilar. “In an ideal world, if the tour is worth $40, let’s not ask anything else for it,” he said yesterday.

“Let’s create in the minds of passengers value for money. Let it get traction. As it progresses and reports come that this is an interesting, fun excursion, then add on a certain amount for the cruise companies for selling it on board their ship.

“It’s not enough for the cruise companies to say there’s nothing interesting to do. The question is why there’s nothing to do. You have an interesting idea, but when they [the cruise lines] sell it to the customer, the customer believes there’s no value.”

Mr D’Aguilar’s “push back” comes at a sensitive time given the ongoing uncertainty over when the cruise industry will meet US health protocols and be allowed to resume sailing, plus the Government’s reliance on the likes of Royal Caribbean (Grand Lucayan), Carnival (Grand Port) and Disney (Lighthouse Point) to pick up pre-pandemic projects it is relying on to revive the economy.

But while the weaknesses in the downtown Nassau/Bay Street tourism product have long been known, many in the Bahamian tourism industry will likely back Mr D’Aguilar’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.

Mr D’Aguilar yesterday conceded that “it’s a bit more blame on our side in developing interesting excursions”, adding that Mr Israel’s criticisms do have some merit. “I always lament that we have 10,000 passengers coming here every single day of the year, and it’s a poor reflection on the destination that we haven’t been creative and entrepreneurial to take advantage of that steady flow of customers,” he said.

He added that the Government had created the Tourism Development Corporation, headed by Janet Johnson, to help address the cruise line criticisms and “tap into and create the linkages between the domestic economy and the tourism sector; to create additional tours”.

Admitting that there had been much talk about fostering such linkages, albeit with little “traction”, Mr D’Aguilar said one of the reasons that Atlantis and its water park amenities were the most attractive cruise passenger excursions pre-COVID was because of the mega resort’s ability to accommodate large numbers.

Suggesting that The Bahamas will have to make “a substantial investment” in its tourism product post-COVID to accommodate ever-growing numbers of cruise passengers, the minister said local providers also have to compete against the cruise ships’ own attractions when they are in port.

“They make it difficult for people to come off the ship, especially if they have been to the destination a couple of times,” Mr D’Aguilar added. “We really have to be on our game and mobilise all our entrepreneurial pieces to make it happen. It’s going to require a lot of investment, and we need the help of the cruise companies as well.”

Mr Israel previously told Tribune Business that Nassau 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.

“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.

Comments

tribanon 1 year, 9 months ago

D'Aguilar is an arse. Just look at how he tip toes when alluding to, rather than forthrightly discussing, the ruthlessly greedy business practices of the cruise ship industry. He knows full well that the entire business model of the cruise ship industry is premised on the fact that their passengers have only so much money that they've budgeted to spend, and are willing to spend, on a vacation cruise. That means the less our local businesses and economy get from their passengers, the more their passengers have to spend at competing shops and attractions on board their ships and at their 'all-inclusive' island resorts.

Meanwhile these monstrous floating hotels litter our territorial waters with their trash, oil based contaminants and shiit dumping, not to mention the destruction of our coral reefs and the air pollution from their smoke stacks. And let's not forget these filthy cruise ships are gargantuan incubators for all kinds of very harmful germs and viruses. Our tourism industry must be land based and not sea based as evidenced by the fact that the ruthlessly greedy cruise ship industry has for decades now been sucking the life blood out of our local economy, resulting in our once lively and dynamic Bay Street shopping district being turned into the 'dead zone' of cheap T-shirt and trinket shops that it is today. And this all started happening long before the Communist China Virus came to town.

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SP 1 year, 9 months ago

Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation needs to come to the reality that the cruise ship industry was never designed to even minimally benefit the profits of resort destinations. They're cutthroat, prohibitive, policies are deliberately designed to maximize their own profits at the expense of destinations they visit.

The cruise industry is actually wholesale travel companies. They sell cruises at give-away prices with the intention of profiting from various passenger-based profit centers i.e. in-resort excursion commissions which actually account for a major percentage of their profits. They will be hard-pressed to change their modes Operandi because of their present structure to profits.

The Bahamas needs to follow the Cayman Islands lead and place restrictions on the volume of ships/passengers allowed in port at any given time. If Nassau's tourism infrastructure cannot cater to 10,000 cruise passengers at once, what is the point of having them come here? The result could only be complaints of not enough to do, overcrowding, poor management, etc.

Curtailing the volume of cruise passengers will lead to more shore-based vacations, higher in-resort spending, more satisfied visitors, increased excursion sales & opportunities, and a much better overall bottom line for the country.

Additionally, having Bahamasair at our disposal, the Bahamas should have long ago partnered with hotels to develop its own wholesale products.

The biggest impediment to tourism growth in our country is spineless individuals with no clue about tourism ignorantly cutting deals with very slick cruise ship pirates and for decades people with power lacking the hands-on experience needed to enable them to be innovative in the market making decisions.

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tribanon 1 year, 9 months ago

Your last paragraph sums up the grossly incompetent D'Aguilar to the very 'T'. D'Aguilar has certainly proven himself to be a totally useless and worthless cabinet minister. He really should just stick to running the simple laundromat business his father Vince started for him years ago.

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SP 1 year, 9 months ago

On the contrary, Dionisio D’Aguilar having been involved in the hotel industry is probably the only individual we've had as minister of tourism that has some level of hands on experience and does have a clue! Unfortunately, he inherited 5 decades of asinine stupidity from predecessors that spoiled the cruise industry by allowing them to believe that the Bahamas could not survive without them. The truth is the cruise industry cannot survive without the Bahamas and other resort destinations.

This is another classic example of the proverbial "tail wagging the dog" situation common in the region when dealing with corporate entities.

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tribanon 1 year, 9 months ago

Can only assume you're referring to the ownership interest his father had in the old Dolphin Hotel at the corner of Nassau Street and West Bay Street. Really?! LMAO

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TalRussell 1 year, 9 months ago

Whilst Dioniso James with tail between his legs, insists to beg the cruise liners to sail back into the colony's ports, it might not be such a bad idea to think out the most survivable of the 1200 Out Islands, Cays, and Rocks, that would be best be on to survive a 2021 'zombie apocalypse'*?
My Comrades, whilst I'm no Nostradamus but this is much too wild stuff just be making up when to have a hope to survive the CDC says. you'll need to start preparing an emergency 2021 survival kit. Yes?**

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ThisIsOurs 1 year, 9 months ago

do you realize that hungry homeless people covered in tattered dirty clothing can look very similar to the classic pictorial of zombies? Especially if a car with clean, freshly clothed people and overflowing with food supplies turns into their neighbourhood. We could learn alot from the movies. The gates never protect civilization. Will Smith had it right, search for the cure.

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bahamianson 1 year, 9 months ago

We cant tell them anytjing. We.need them kow more than ever.you tell them not to dump.

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concerned799 1 year, 9 months ago

Where is the discussion about would the Bahamas be better off without a cruise industry where tourists instead all visited with land based hotel stays? Once you take this aspect of the issue off the table, all is basically lost.

How is partnership possible with an industry specifically designed around the notion of putting itself above all meaningful regulation by any state? It specifically is designed to grow and push aside the power of national governments to regulate or tax it.

In this respect it is not like a hotel operator the Bahamas can truely partner with. The more the cruise industry grows the more the power of the Bahamas to shape its own destiny reduces.

10,000 daily passengers and how does the Bahamas make money off them? Simple, ban the cruise ships, and 2,000 or so of them will visit as hotel guests producing vastly higher revenue to the Bahamas. Wow, wish all problems were this easy to solve. Then we can skip cruise line critiques of Nassau.

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ragenx 1 year, 9 months ago

I am an American cruiser, who would like to comment on the recent Carnival Cruise Line Excursions Executives Comments about the Nassau Port Offerings.

My first few visits to you're lovely Island City, I did do the typical things, Visited Ardastra Gardens, Toured Atlantis, Took a glass bottomed boat tour, The Pirate Museum, The Forts, The Queens Staircase, A Horse drawn carriage tour, Water Taxi, City Bus Tour, The Straw Market, and all the typical stuff (So I know of which I speak.)

Most cruise passengers upon there first visit there, hit one or two of these things each visit, but after about there 3'rd visit kind of get the attitude of "Already Been There, Done That, Don't need to get off the ship, and do it again.".

Not everybody does this, I'd say about 75 percent of Repeat cruisers still get off the ship and walk into Nassau, but after a visit or two, they do quit taking paid excursions. (Why, because the cruise lines charge way too much for them on the ship, ... and as for why they don't take paid excursions from vendors that approach them off the ship is because the cruise lines have scared them with stories of people getting scammed when booking their own excursions.)

First lets do some basic math, ....

I would say even a typical repeat cruise visitor, even a cheep skate American "Carnival Cruiser" who's been to Nassau still contributes to your economy.

Maybe they don't have the $1,000 a day spend of an overnight guest, but here is an average break down, of a repeat cruiser on a Nassau day visit, ......

Get off ship, ...... Find a local Bar, either Bay Street, or Senor Frogs, Junkanoo Beach etc. $10-20 bucks in cheep beers and specials, maybe rent a beach chair, $5 Probably grab a quick Ice Cream, Conch Fritters, or other lite lunch, so another $5-$15 then swing by the Straw Market or Other street vendor or shop for a few small souvenirs, so say about average of another $20 each. then back to the ship.

so as you can see, you're right repeat cruise visitors don't splurge for taxis, excursions or high end things.

But here's the math, .....

and I'll do it conservatively, ....

There are days with as many as six ships in port, with multiple thousands of passengers, so real numbers are much higher.

But let's just for example say one ship a day x 365 days a year, and let's say it holds 3,000 passengers, and only 2,000 of them get off the ship, and each speed a average of even just $40.00 each in Nassau, .....

That's still $80.000 in a day!

and $29.200.000 in a year!!!

and that is at a conservative 2000, very cheep skate passengers a day, and not the reality of real passenger numbers, or number of ships, or those who do buy excursions, visit casinos, or spend much more shopping and dining.

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