By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Nassau Cruise Port’s top executive yesterday predicted that the facility will receive around 4.5m passengers in 2024, representing around a 12.5 percent increase on arrivals projected for the upcoming year.
Michael Maura, who have the Prime Minister and other government officials a tour of the $300m Prince George Wharf transformation, told reporters that the facility is expecting year-over-year growth in cruise passenger numbers of some 25 percent in 2023.
That will take cruise arrivals to some four million, as compared to this year’s 3.2m, with the Nassau Cruise Port chief executive explaining that passenger numbers will grow faster than vessels berthing because the latter are getting ever-bigger with larger occupancies.
The port, which is scheduled to complete its transformation by next May and have its grand opening towards the end of that month, is eyeing a 4.5 percent rise in cruise ship arrivals next year compared to pre-pandemic numbers. And, for 2024, it expects to break the 1,300 vessel calls mark.
Asked about current and future cruise passenger numbers, Mr Maura said: “So we will handle this year; coming out if January, when we saw occupancies on those ships in the high 40 percents, in terms of occupancy percentage, to hitting around 105 percent I think it was in June or July this year, so we will handle about just over 3.2m passengers this year but again, that’s starting while we were still in the pandemic or consequences of the pandemic.
“But going into next year we’re over four million [passengers], and the year after that we’re closer to 4.5m, but the passengers from a percentage standpoint grow more significantly than the number of ships because the ships are larger.”
Nassau Cruise Port, Mr Maura said, will exceed the 1,206 vessel calls it received in 2019 prior to COVID with 1,260 next year and some 1,300 anticipated in 2024. He added that the cruise port’s transformation, which will enable it to accommodate six vessels - including three of the larger Oasis or Icon class ships - at any one time has expanded daily passenger capacity by 65 percent - from a maximum of 20,000 to around 33,000.
Mr Maura said construction costs had increased from an initially anticipated $250m to around $300m as a result of building materials inflation and price increases stemming from COVID, plus subsequent supply chain backlogs, as well as difficulties in bringing in expatriate labour amid the pandemic restrictions. Of the 300-strong construction workforce on-site at present, around half are Bahamian.
He added that Prince George Wharf will provide more employment than the 45 jobs at Nassau Cruise Port, as there will be some 40 persons engaged by its port security contractor along with staff hired by retail, restaurant and marketplace tenants.
Getting cruise passengers off the vessel when docked in Nassau, and increasing their per capita spend with Bahamian businesses, will be key. The Prime Minister yesterday voiced concern over whether the cruise port’s attractions will impact the desire of passengers to venture beyond what it provides.
Telling port executives that the “competition has to be fair”, Mr Davis said: “We need to drive some of those people to the Straw Market and they will not be driven there if you are selling straw here too.”
Mr Maura responded: “Tourism and Minister Sears have already started that conversation… but we are not the ones selecting the applicants or the occupants of this space. It’s coming from the Government. The only thing I would say in the interest of all of us is that everybody that is proposed needs to go through the committee to make sure in fact that (what) they’re selling is Bahamian and not foreign.”
Average vessel occupancies for ships calling on Nassau Cruise Port have risen from 45 percent in January, when the industry and entire world were hit by COVID’s Omicron variant, to 54 percent and 71 percent for February and March 2022, respectively. This steadily improving trend continued with 78 percent and 85 percent for April and May, followed by 102 percent for June and 105 percent for July to-date.
Mr Maura previously explained that ships could achieve greater than 100 percent occupancy as this indicator was pegged to “dual occupancy per cabin”. With a family of three, they could all stay in such a cabin and thereby help take occupancy above that percentage threshold.