By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Nassau Cruise Port will today host five vessels for the first time since COVID-19 struck in March 2020, its top executive asserting: “We’re on the road to recovery.”
Michael Maura, its top executive, yesterday told Tribune Business that the two Royal Caribbean vessels, combined with one each from Carnival, Disney and Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), will collectively bring close to 10,000 passengers to the Bahamian capital when they dock today.
“Tomorrow [today], for the first time since March 2020, we will have five cruise ships in port,” he disclosed. “We will have the Disney Fantasy, Carnival Pride, MSC Divina, and Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas and Freedom of the Seas.
“It highlights that the industry is well on its way to 2019 levels, given that this will be the first time since March 2020 that we will have had five cruise ships in port at the same time. We will have close to 10,000 passengers. We’re on the road to recovery. Any time we have at least 5,000 passengers in port we hire a local Bahamian band and music to create a lot of excitement.”
Bahamian tourism-related businesses and their employees, typically those located in the downtown Nassau and Bay Street areas, require passengers to venture off the ship and spend their money if they are to maximise the potential economic benefits from the cruise industry.
Tribune Business recently reported the concerns of one business that suggested just 20 percent of passengers were disembarking their vessel when docked in Nassau. When this was pointed out to Mr Maura, he said different cruise lines were adopting different COVID-19 health protocols as an example.
Citing Disney as an example, the Nassau Cruise Port chief said that as a family-oriented cruise line it had a disproportionate share of unvaccinated passengers in the form of children aged 12 years-old or less.
As a result, Mr Maura explained that Disney was “interested in excursions and tours that offer a greater amount of control and limit the amount of independent passengers that can freely roam the city”. He added that this approach would alter in line with health protocols.
As for the other cruise lines, Mr Maura said: “Royal Caribbean and Carnival have very strict health protocols, with 90 percent of passengers fully vaccinated. Those passengers are able to pass through Nassau and New Providence freely, and participate in tours provided they comply with the health travel protocols.
“MSC is the same as Carnival and Royal Caribbean. Norwegian Cruise Line only allows fully vaccinated people on board. We’re seeing a lot of cruise passengers come off the ship.”
Mr Maura, meanwhile, said Nassau Cruise Port was waiting on the Securities Commission to complete its review and approval of the offering document that will set out all the details investors require regarding the $25m initial public offering (IPO) of shares in the Prince George Wharf developer.
The IPO, which is targeted at individual retail investors as opposed to large institutions, will offer Bahamians the chance to buy shares in The Bahamas Investment Fund. This investment fund-type structure will collectively hold a 49 percent equity ownership interest in the Nassau Cruise Port on behalf of all investors.
The offering, which was scheduled for a mid-October launch, is structured so that no one investor or group of investors can own a majority interest in - or control - The Bahamas Investment Fund. And Global Ports Holding, Nassau Cruise Port’s controlling shareholder with a similar 49 percent stake, is making available a multi-million dollar financing facility to help fund share purchases by Bahamians.
And Mr Maura also hailed the newly-elected Davis administration’s decision to extend the cruise passenger COVID-19 vaccination mandate beyond its November 1 expiration, arguing that it will further boost industry “confidence and certainty” in The Bahamas.
Speaking after Chester Cooper, deputy prime minister, confirmed the requirement that all passengers aged 12 years and older be fully vaccinated before they embark on a cruise will be extended to next year, Mr Maura said: “It brings more confidence and certainty to the industry.
“Why I say that is the cruise consumer has been calling various cruise lines, looking at booking a cruise to The Bahamas or a stop in The Bahamas, and asking the question: ‘Do I have to be fully vaccinated? What are the health protocols?’ The cruise lines would have communicated that there was an emergency order, and the requirement was to expire on October 31 at midnight.
“The Government, by choosing to extend the vaccination requirement for all cruise passengers 12 years and older, brings more certainty to the industry and allows the Davis administration to continue monitoring the COVID-19 global circumstance. It brings more consistency and certainty to the current rebound of the cruise industry.”
The cruise industry provisions, contained in the Emergency Powers (COVID-19 Pandemic) (Management and Recovery( (No.2) (Amendment) (No.8) Order 2021, which came into effect on August 19, were to last from September 3 to November 1, 2021.
These prohibit cruise ships from calling in Nassau, Freeport and other Bahamian islands - including the lines’ private islands - unless all passengers aged 12 years-old and older were fully vaccinated before they embarked the vessel at its original port of departure. Cruise ships also have to submit a health manifest on all passengers and crew before arriving in port, and comply with measures previously agreed with the Government.