By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Nassau Cruise Port’s top executive yesterday said it has lost more vessel calls to bad weather than the COVID Omicron variant with berth bookings “very solid” for the remainder of 2022.
Michael Maura told Tribune Business that the Prince George Wharf operator had suffered “less than a handful of lost calls” as a result of the Ministry of Health and Wellness denying entry to cruise ships with a high number of onboard COVID cases, pegging the number at “less than three”.
This, he added, was equivalent to the number of cruise ship calls lost to bad weather since the New Year, and Nassau Cruise Port had offset those unable to enter due to COVID by additional vessel calls that had not been on its 2022 books.
“We had less than a handful whereby the Ministry of Health and Wellness refused the vessel permission to call,” Mr Maura confirmed to this newspaper of COVID-related losses. “It wasn’t necessarily a Nassau call; it was more likely a Bahamas call and Nassau was just one of the stops that didn’t happen.
“It was less than three. The biggest disruption we had the week prior is we had a bad weather day, and had three ship calls cancelled because of bad weather. But we’ve also seen a pick-up in additional calls.
“We’ve experienced less than a handful of cancellations as a result of the Ministry of Health denying entry to ships that a number of COVID cases they were not comfortable with, but we’ve seen additional calls that we did not have on the books. The cruise lines asked if we had space, and we accommodated them.”
He added: “We had a very strong December leading up to Christmas Day, and then we had that ebb before Christmas and New Year because people are generally at home and there was a lot of talk about what the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was doing, putting out that advisory on not sailing whether vaccinated or unvaccinated.
“However, the cruise lines continue to see robust bookings and we continue to see robust calls. We’re still seeing the numbers, and still seeing the ships. Last Thursday, we had five ships in. Again, our bookings are very solid and the cruise lines have made a major commitment to Nassau.
“Our financial plans for the first quarter, notwithstanding that we have very strong bookings from the cruise lines, we have been conservative in terms of our numbers because of the potential impact of COVID variants. But what we are seeing is 2022 outperforming 2019, and 2023 outperforming 2023.”
Mr Maura added that the 1,279 total cruise ship calls on Nassau that are currently scheduled for 2022 will exceed 2019 levels, the last pre-COVID year. “The cruise lines update bookings daily, a d the current bookings we have for 2022 total 1,279 vessel calls,” he told Tribune Business.
“If those ships are at 100 percent occupancy, this equates to 4.1m passengers [for the year]. Our budgeted passenger count is considerably less at 3.3m passengers for 2022, so we have been conservative.” Given that cruise ships are still sailing below 100 percent occupancy, such forecasting will likely be seen as wise.
Passenger occupancy forecasts also do not indicate whether all will disembark the vessel when in Nassau, or the level of per visitor spend that The Bahamas is eagerly trying to raise in its major destinations.
Meanwhile, Mr Maura said the CDC’s COVID-19 guidelines becoming optional, as opposed to mandatory, for the cruise ship industry will have no impact on the sector or its plans for The Bahamas and calling on Nassau Cruise Port.
“I really don’t think it changes much because the industry isn’t relaxing its protocols as a result of the change in the CDC position as of yesterday,” he said. “The cruise industry has exceeded the requirements as mandated by the CDC to ensure its guests and crew members are as safe as possible in this pandemic.
“The cruise industry continues to exercise sound judgment in monitoring and adapting to fundamental changes in health and health concerns. I think we’re going to see business as usual from where we are today. They will continue to ensure passengers are vaccinated, provide crew with booster shots and monitor advice from the CDC to reduce the impact of any future COVID variant.”
Mr Maura had previously argued the CDC singled out the cruise industry, which pre-COVID accounted for three-quarters of visitor arrivals to The Bahamas but around just 11 percent of their total spending, with its former advisory against sailing while ignoring the fact that the same “consumer pool” was also travelling on planes and visiting the same entertainment/sporting venues.
He added that 95 percent of cruise passengers sailing today are fully vaccinated, along with 100 percent of crew members. And the Nassau Cruise Port chief said Royal Caribbean has ensured all its crews have had boosters, with Carnival not far behind.
Asserting that the cruise industry has “gone beyond” other travel-related industries with its COVID vaccinations, testing and protocols, and investing heavily in isolation, quarantine and medical facilities aboard ship, Mr Maura said the CDC had “chosen to focus one light on the cruise industry and not look at any other sector”.
“It is upsetting to me that the CDC have chosen to isolate the cruise industry the way they have, and come out and said whether you are vaccinated or not, don’t cruise. I just don’t think that’s a very fair analysis of the cruise industry,” he added.