• Eyes unexpected home port windfall
• Crystal touts ‘record’ Bahamas bookings
• ‘More to come’: ‘Good chance’ to keep both
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Nassau Cruise Port will receive an unexpected $3.5m windfall from its use by two cruise lines as a home port, with its chief executive branding the windfall as “the icing on the cake”.
Michael Maura, speaking to Tribune Business after Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines confirmed the Adventure of the Seas will begin seven-day round-trip voyages from Nassau from June 12, said The Bahamas will “get the best of both worlds” as it seeks to kickstart its tourism rebound in earnest following COVID-19’s devastation.
Normally capable of carrying 3,800 passengers, together with a 1,200-strong crew, Mr Maura said several thousand extra persons per week will start arriving in the Bahamian capital every week from early summer top embark for Adventure of the Seas’ cruise.
While this will not amount to 5,000 persons initially, given that Royal Caribbean is likely to resume post-COVID sailing with a 50 percent reduction in passenger capacity, Nassau Cruise Port’s chief said the 1,500 to 1,900 customers - when combined with crew - will provide a weekly arrivals boost of around 3,000.
He predicted that this will have “a significant impact on the local economy”, with numerous passengers likely to spend several nights in a Nassau hotel both before and after their cruise, coming into contact with restaurants and excursions, and needing to use ground transportation.
And, if The Bahamas delivered a strong cruise passenger experience, Mr Maura said there was “a good opportunity” for Nassau and The Bahamas to hang on to Royal Caribbean as a long-term home port client given the increasing number of new vessels scheduled to be delivered in the next few years post-pandemic.
Confirming that Nassau Cruise Port stands to earn from home porting passengers more than three times’ what will be generated by visiting or transit passengers, Mr Maura said: “Whereas our transit passenger tariff is $8.50 per passenger, the home port passenger departing from Nassau and returning to Nassau with luggage, our tariff fee will be $28.50 per passenger.
“I think, over a 12-month period, we’ll pick up $3.5m from Crystal Cruises and Royal Caribbean..... This home port business is incremental business. We anticipate getting some traffic out of south Florida before the year is out, starting in the third quarter, but this home port business is the icing on the cake.”
The decisions by Royal Caribbean and Crystal Cruises to home port in The Bahamas mean that the cruise industry will resume sailing to destinations in this nation potentially several months before its ships return from Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Port Canaveral, thereby giving this nation a headstart on its competitors.
Crystal Cruises, which plans to begin 16 weekly seven-night round-trip voyages around The Bahamas from July 3, stopping in Bimini, Harbour Island, San Salvador, Exuma and Long Island, on Friday announced that it had received record bookings within the first 24 hours of opening this itinerary to guests.
It said 4,000 guests “reserved staterooms or suites on at least one of the seven-night voyages that cruise from Nassau or Bimini round-trip, booking more than 25 percent of the 16 voyages’ combined availability”.
“Almost 200 guests reserved back-to-back voyages, with some planning to spend 42 days on board the company’s flagship. The luxury line realised a 2,024 percent increase in online bookings and received reservations from the biggest number of distinct travel agencies in Crystal’s 30-year history,” the cruise line added, as it highlighted the post-COVID-19 pent-up demand.
Some 80 percent of the Crystal Serenity’s butler-serviced penthouses – the largest suites — were said to have already been reserved for The Bahamas sailings. “I don’t think we’re done yet,” Mr Maura told Tribune Business of the two home port deals unveiled so far. “There’s going to be other cruise lines setting up shop here.
“Royal Caribbean’s announcement is huge, and the other significant thing about this is June 12 is less than three months away. What we’re also doing is we’ve identified the suppliers of luggage scanning equipment to facilitate our scanning of luggage arriving prior to going on the ship.
“That same scanning technology will be available to Customs for Bahamians coming back. Bahamians can just as easily board those ships, take a cruise and on their return we’ll be able to provide them with the same service as they get at the airport. We’ll have the luggage scanning system in place before the first cruise ship sails on June 12.”
Mr Maura said Royal Caribbean, in common with Crystal Cruises, is requiring all passengers and crew to be vaccinated before they come to The Bahamas to embark on a cruise. “From our perspective, we’re looking to get as many of our personnel at the cruise port and agencies working with the cruise ships vaccinated as soon as the Government tells us it’s our turn,” he added.
COVID-19 health protocols are being woven into Nassau Cruise Port’s operations ahead of home porting’s start, Mr Maura said, with Crystal and Royal Caribbean combined likely bringing between 2,400 to 2,800 passengers to Nassau weekly along with hundreds of ship’s crew.
Arguing that the impact of crew spending was often under-estimated, Mr Maura said The Bahamas has good prospects for retaining Crystal Cruises and Royal Caribbean as long-term home porting clients.
“I think from Crystal’s perspective, based on the information they have shared, this is a long-term effort on their part and for as long as their customers demand they will continue to home port out of Nassau. They weren’t sailing from Miami,” Mr Maura told this newspaper.
As for Royal Caribbean, Mr Maura acknowledged the move was likely driven by COVID-19 and the desire to restart, suggesting that they were looking at other ports in the Caribbean besides Nassau. While the cruise giant will never abandon its Miami and south Florida base, the increase in new cruise vessels being delivered for sailing in 2022 and 2023 means it needs more berth capacity.
As a result, Mr Maura argued: “I think there’s a good opportunity for us to hold on to Royal Caribbean as a home port in Nassau because more ships need more berths. We have a good chance; we just need to do our job to the best of our ability and give passengers a great experience.”
With the Nassau Cruise Port in the middle of a $250m transformation, Mr Maura said it had already selected the piers that will be used for home porting vessels so they will not be disturbed by the construction work.
“We have weekly meetings with the cruise lines that are home porting to make sure their operations are in sync with ours. Everyone is working on this together,” Mr Maura added.
Royal Caribbean passengers will spend two days at Perfect Day, the cruise line’s private island destination at Coco Cay, plus make stops in Grand Bahama and Cozumel, Mexico, on the seven-day round trip journey starting and ending in Nassau. Travellers can book their round-trip cruise as soon as Wednesday, March 24.
Michael Bayley, Royal Caribbean’s president and chief executive, said: “The vaccines are clearly a game changer for all of us, and with the number of vaccinations and their impact growing rapidly, we believe starting with cruises for vaccinated adult guests and crew is the right choice. As we move forward, we expect this requirement and other measures will inevitably evolve over time.
“The opportunity to home port in The Bahamas is a testament to the tremendous partners the government and the people of the island nation have been to us for more than 50 years. We are grateful for the confidence that they have in us and our commitment to a healthy and happy return to sailing.”
Dr Hubert Minnis added: “Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of passengers will experience Nassau or Grand Bahama in ways they never had the opportunity to before. I am especially pleased that Royal Caribbean, with whom we have had a long and mutually beneficial relationship for more than 50 years, selected The Bahamas as a home port when sailing resumes.
“This is truly a new day for tourism. It should inspire many small to medium-sized businesses, tour operators, taxi drivers, restaurants and retailers, to prepare for brighter days ahead; the best we have ever had.”