By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A former Bahamas National Trust (BNT) chief yesterday said this nation must “up the ante” and leverage its “natural capital” to obtain better deals from the cruise industry, adding: “We give up too easily.”
Eric Carey, the Trust’s former executive director, told Tribune Business that The Bahamas needs to emphasise the value it brings and adds to the cruise passenger experience when negotiating with the likes of Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC).
Speaking after he wrote a letter to the editor, in which he reiterated his “serious misgivings” over Royal Caribbean’s planned $100m Paradise Island beach break destination, he said of the cruise lines: “Obviously they are a very powerful economic group. From my experience, what I’ve heard, they’ve been very tough negotiators and, in the past, when certain Caribbean countries have said we’d like a bit more, the cruise companies have pushed back to the point of threatening to pull out.
“It’s going to take sensible negotiations. I think we have to get them to acknowledge the value of our natural capital with what we bring to the table. I’m not certain that’s properly acknowledged by the cruise lines, and I’m not sure it’s properly leveraged by our negotiators.
“I’ve never really heard us advance a position where they come to The Bahamas for our pristine waters, our natural environment is what enhances their clients’ experience, and really put that on the table as much as we should have. We need to up the ante on that, and not just promote based on investment in cruise ports, such as the $300m Nassau port or private islands,” Mr Carey added.
“We need to go to the table and place more on it, leverage the incredible natural environment and the experience that brings to the cruise passengers.” The former National Trust chief, who has been hired by Atlantis to review Royal Caribbean’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for its revised Royal Beach Club project whenever it is released, said The Bahamas also needs to leverage the “certain competitive advantages” provided by its geography and proximity.
Besides being able to offer multiple island experiences within just one nation, the country’s position as the nearest stop to the major Florida cruise ports of Miami, Port Everglades and Canaveral means that - with Cuba still largely off-limits - The Bahamas remains the only option on the three, four and five night cruises.
And the Jones Act, which refers to section 27 of the US Merchant Marine Act 1920, requires that foreign-flagged cruise ships (many of which are flagged by the Bahamas) have to call on a foreign port before they can return to their home base in the US. This further strengthens and cements The Bahamas’ position as the only viable option on short-term cruises.
Many observers have long questioned why The Bahamas has not sought to leverage this, and the country’s value as a private island destination, to negotiate better economic terms with the cruise lines. Mr Carey said yesterday that The Bahamas’ strategic location means the cruise lines “do not have to burn the fuel” they would in sailing to the Caribbean, thus lowering their business costs as well as reducing ‘wear and tear’ and vessel maintenance costs.
“We definitely give up too easily,” Mr Carey told Tribune Business. “When we allow for these private island destinations, every cruise line owns them, and if we haven’t thrown in Crown Land we are allowing them to add incredible value to their product by setting up private island destinations because they can sell another product to their passengers.
“I’ve run into tourists who have gone to a private island experience and not realised they were still in the same country. That points there to their incredible advantage, and we should leverage that to our benefit.” Mr Carey, who now heads ONE Consultants, in a letter published in The Tribune, acknowledges that cruise tourism remains important to The Bahamas.
“I want to make it clear that I am not opposed to all aspects of the cruise industry, and that despite its large carbon footprint, the industry is an important part of our tourism landscape. Many Bahamians depend on the industry to make a living,” he wrote.
“Notwithstanding this, I believe that as a country we need to do a better job of negotiating more favourable terms of engagement with the cruise industry. We need to better leverage the natural capital that is provided by the Bahamian environment. Cruise lines use our environment to make billions of dollars. Therefore we should strive for a more equitable, sustainable business arrangement.”
Turning specifically to Royal Caribbean’s proposed Paradise Island project, Mr Carey said: “I want to be very clear in stating that I do not support the project and have serious misgivings about its value to The Bahamas. Ever since the project was introduced years ago, I felt this was not a project that should get government approval because of significant environmental risks and considerations.
“I have since reviewed the initial Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for this proposed project, which has in no way lessened my concerns. Firstly, the site contains the last remnant pockets of native coastal forests on Paradise Island. And as this is Crown Land, we should be looking to protect this last vestige of native plants on Paradise Island rather than replace it with non-native vegetation.
“I also have concerns about the proposed development’s carrying capacity to service thousands of cruise passengers at the site every day. The quantity of solid waste to be added to the landfill will be significant. Who will bear the environmental cost of these impacts? The Bahamian consumer whose taxes fund the management of the landfill?”
Mr Carey reiterated Atlantis’ concerns about how waste water and solid waste will be treated and/or disposed of. And any move to modify or change the coastline could impact other beaches on Paradise Island and New Providence’s northern coastline.
“There are numerous examples around The Bahamas of how beaches have been destroyed by altering the coastline. One need not look any further than Cable Beach to see where interference with the beach profile has resulted in significant and nearly irreparable damage to the natural beach profile there,” he said.
The Prime Minister, though, has voiced confidence that his administration has negotiated a better deal with Royal Caribbean that allows for greater participation by Bahamian entrepreneurs and investors, as well as securing a collective 49 percent equity ownership in the project for locals. The full details, though, have yet to be revealed, while the project’s further progress depends on environmental evaluations.
Maximilianotto 2 months, 2 weeks ago
Did anyone ever analyze the real benefits of the cruise business for host countries? It’s negligible to negative when considering environmental damages. But the cookie jar for a few seems to be too tempting.
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