• Crystal Cruises ‘first to home port’ in nation
• Unveils exclusive Bahamas 7-day voyage
• Briland, Exuma, San Sal and Long Island calls
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A Cabinet minister yesterday hailed “a tipping point” for tourism and the wider economy as the first cruise line to ever home port in The Bahamas unveiled its multi-island schedule for summer 2021.
Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, told a conference call that Crystal Cruises’ decision to base one of its vessels in this nation for seven-day voyages exclusively in the Bahamas represented “a significant milestone” in efforts to revive tourism in both the near and long-term.
The upscale, luxury cruise line, which offers butler service for 30 percent of its passengers, will use Nassau and Bimini as home ports for week-long cruises set to begin on July 3. The Crystal Serenity will call on Harbour Island, Great Exuma, Long Island and San Salvador via an itinerary designed to boost to island economies, traditionally not on a cruise industry schedule, that are still reeling from COVID.
“This a milestone achievement,” Mr D’Aguilar said, speaking just one day after revealing that four cruise lines are presently in negotiations to use Nassau as their home port. “After a year of despair, uncertainty and doubt.... this will prove to be the tipping point for our citizens, tourism industry and nation.”
And, just one day after urging all Bahamians - especially tourism workers - to become vaccinated against COVID-19 as rapidly as possible, given that the pace and strength of The Bahamas’ economic recovery depends on this, Mr D’Aguilar predicted that most citizens and residents will be vaccinated by July in time for Crystal’s sailing start.
“Certainly, by July 4 and the latter part of July, we anticipate the vast majority of our population who want to be vaccinated will be vaccinated,” he added. The Bahamas, though, has a long way to go to achieve this ambitious timeframe given that just 20,000 vaccine doses have presently reached its shores.
Jack Anderson, Crystal Cruises’ president and chief executive, said the Crystal Serenity will “offer a 100 percent Bahamian itinerary through to at least October” with the possibility that its exclusive stay in this nation could be extended further. “I think it’s very likely. No final decision has been made,” he added, when questioned by Tribune Business.
“We’re certain of one thing: These Bahamas cruises are going to sell out very quickly, and that will most likely encourage us to to extend.” Crystal Cruises is capping passenger numbers on the Serenity to 900 guests to ensure compliance with COVID-19 health and safety measures, especially social distancing.
Mr Anderson indicated that Crystal Cruises has selected The Bahamas for its sailing resumption because of the multiple destinations and island experiences it offers, together with the ease of complying with COVID-19 health protocols.
Similar to what Bahamian marinas are hoping for with the boating/yachting business, he signalled that Crystal Cruises’ previous itineraries featuring numerous Caribbean island stops are presently too complex to operate due to the different COVID-19 measures each island is employing.
“This makes Crystal Serenity the first to return to sailing in the Americas and first to home port in The Bahamas,” Mr Anderson said. Describing the 16 voyages planned between now and mid-October as Bahamas Escapes, the cruise line will allow persons to embark the vessel in either Nassau or Bimini before it heads to other Family Island calls.
“Crystal Serenity will be the first cruise ship to visit some of these unspoilt destinations that previously were only visited by private boaters,” the Crystal Cruises chief added, with the companies website advertising more than 30 seven-day Bahamas cruises although the website lists just 16 dates.
Mr Anderson said the company’s plans would “provide much-needed economic support to businesses in The Bahamas which, like other destinations reliant on tourism, have been hard hit by the pandemic”.
He added that the cruise line’s guests will have the ability to extend their Bahamas stay in both Nassau and Bimini, with “packages” being offered via Bahamas’ SLS property and Resorts World Bimini.
“From 2022 our current bookings are significantly ahead of the same time in 2019, which is the last complete year of sailing,” Mr Anderson said. “Our future bookings are ahead, and our guest relations department and sales department is continually hearing from our guests they are eager to sail.”
Mr D’Aguilar, describing Crystal Cruises’ plans as “a significant milestone for cruising in The Bahamas, said: “Given that more than 70 percent of the Government’s tax revenue comes from tourism, the return of cruising from partners like Crystal Cruises will bring much-needed economic relief to the country.
“The benefits of guest expenditures, crew expenditures and port fees will translate into dollars spent directly in our communities, delivering an equitable source of income for thousands of Bahamians. Each sailing to The Bahamas will go a long way in helping local businesses, excursion and tour operators on our islands to get back to work.
“The opportunity for passengers to add on pre- and post-sailing stays in The Bahamas will further increase tourism revenue as well...... As cases decline and more people become vaccinated, we are seeing COVID-19 slowly begin to loosen its grip on the world tourism industry, and we’re thrilled to be able to welcome back cruise passengers after a year-long hiatus.”
Mr D’Agular said Crystal Cruises’ arrival had been in the works for some months. “Nearly a year of planning has brought us to this moment of triumph,” he added. The minister, while admitting there may be “push back” against Family Island cruise tourism from a minority, voiced confidence that the announcement will “be received with some excitement”.
There are now several months to prepare the selected Family Island destinations for Crystal Cruises’ arrival, and Joy Jibrilu, the Ministry of Tourism’s director-general, said many communities were used to receiving occasional visits from high-end cruise lines’ whose guests were seeking authentic Bahamian experiences “off the beaten path”.