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'Phenomenal': Carnival's extra $100m to drive 5.5m GB cruise tourism surge

• Cruise line to double Celebration Key berths to four

• Brings annual visitors to 4m, with rivals adding 1.5m

• Carnival: 95% of construction work for Bahamians

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Carnival's extra $100m investment to double the volume of ships its new port can handle will lead a cruise-driven 5.5m visitor surge to Grand Bahama in 2028, it was revealed yesterday.

Chester Cooper, deputy prime minister and minister of tourism, investments and aviation, told the Grand Bahama Business Outlook that Carnival's Celebration Key expansion combined with the 1.5m visitors to its rivals' $80m Freeport Harbour development will - in four years' time - attract to the island one million more passengers than visited Nassau during the latter's 2023 record year.

Describing the imminent impact from Carnival's now-$600m project, as well as the Royal Caribbean, Mediterranean Shipping Company and ITM Group consortium's development, as "phenomenal", he said both investments will fill a void in Grand Bahama's product offering by providing destination experiences.

Carnival's additional outlay will extend Celebration Key's docking pier so that the port can double the number of Excel class vessels, the largest class it operates, it accommodates from two to four on a daily basis. This will result in some 10,000 passengers visiting the cruise line's "largest project in the world" almost every day.

"Today is another grand day for Grand Bahama," Mr Cooper told the conference. "I am pleased to announce that Carnival has indicated its intentions for additional investment in Grand Bahama over and above the more than $500m already announced.

"Carnival plans to expand its footprint with additional investments of $100m. In addition to the two berths slated to be completed...." Mr Cooper then queried the timeline for completing the initial two vessel berths, but was reassured by cruise line executives present that it really was 2025 and not 2026.

A senior Carnival executive later confirmed that Celebration Key will start operations in July 2025. The first $500m phase, featuring two cruise berths, is forecast to create 700 full-time jobs including 300 Bahamians to be hired directly by the cruise line.

"It has on my paper by 2025; that's prophetic, but I believe it should say 2026. 2025? Good," the deputy prime minister said. "In addition to the first two berths slated to be completed by 2025, the expansion will add two more berths and be completed in 2026.

"I like to keep the pressure on and as, when the investor says they will be done by 2027, why not 2026? I'm delighted the first two berths will be completed in 2025, with the next two completed in 2026. The expanded cruise pier will accommodate up to four Excel-class ships simultaneously. The $100m additional investment means more jobs, more opportunity and more money in the economy of Grand Bahama.

"As a result of these investments, we expect that visitor arrivals in Grand Bahama will exceed 1.4m by the end of 2025, and 2.3m by the end of 2026, and 3.3m by the end of 2027. Ultimately, Carnival projects Celebration Key will be a $600m project that will welcome nearly four million guests annually to Grand Bahama by 2028," Mr Cooper continued.

"I want to point out that this is the largest Carnival project anywhere in the world. I want to point out, Grand Bahama, you are set to have the world’s largest cruise line’s largest project on planet Earth and, over the next two decades, the project will drive substantial growth in Bahamian employment, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and government revenue."

Drawing on the findings of an economic impact assessment study by Tourism Economics, the consultancy frequently hired to produce such reviews for Bahamas-based tourism projects, Mr Cooper said Celebration Key - over two decades - is forecast to create 2,500 direct Bahamian jobs, boost the country's GDP by $9.7bn and generate $3.2bn in extra government revenues.

It was not clear when those "two decades" begin, or which years will be covered, but dividing the GDP and government revenue figures by 20 gives an annual impact of $485m and $160m, respectively. Describing this as "big news" for Grand Bahama's economy, Mr Cooper said Celebration Key was not the only cruise-led project being counted on to stimulate the island's revival.

"In a remarkable partnership of Royal Caribbean, ITM Group and MSC, we will soon see formally announced plans to develop an $80m cruise port and water park at Freeport Harbour. This is only the first phase of this development. These entities have come together, and this project will be presented to you and completed by the end of 2026.

"Big things are happening in Grand Bahama by 2026. The development has the capacity for 20,000 passengers a day and a total of 1.5m visitors a year by the end of 2027." Several sources have suggested that the scale of cruise line investments, by both Carnival and the Royal Caribbean/MSC group, indicates that the lines could ultimately be looking at home porting on the island - albeit several years out.

Both projects have been in the works for some time. Carnival's development, originally conceived under the last Christie administration some eight to nine years ago, was initially targeting a site in east Grand Bahama before it was encouraged to look in the Port area.

And Royal Caribbean's plans for Freeport Harbour first emerged under the Minnis administration prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, although they were then tied to the ultimately failed Grand Lucayan purchase. MSC subsequently joined the group, and a deal with Freeport Harbour Company - owned jointly by Hutchison Whampoa and a Grand Bahama Port Authority affiliate - has been awaited for years.

It is unclear when the Freeport Harbour project will be agreed and proceed, given that the go-ahead was expected last year but did not happen. Mr Cooper, eager to "put this in context", said of the cruise line investments: "Earlier today I said Grand Bahama saw visitor arrivals in 2023 of roughly $600,000."

Noting that Nassau Cruise Point welcomed a "record" 4.5m passengers to the Bahamian capital in 2023, the deputy prime minister added: "Given the indication from the Royal Caribbean, ITM and MSC project of 1.5m visitors, and given the potential four million visitors expected from Carnival's Grand Bahama operations, we - in 2027, in a full year of operations with both facilities completed, will welcome to the island of Grand Bahama some 5.5m visitors.

"So, keep this in perspective, that is one million more than the Nassau Cruise Port welcomed in 2023. This is simply phenomenal, ladies and gentlemen. We have two significant international entities who are putting hundreds of millions of dollars on the ground in Grand Bahama," the deputy prime minister added.

"They have indicated that to support their investments in Grand Bahama they must bring to the island of Grand Bahama 5.5m visitors. This is simply phenomenal, ladies and gentlemen." Juan Fernandez, Carnival's vice-president of destination operations, later told the same conference that Celebration Key will accommodate 18 ships sailing from 11 different home ports - including Barcelona in Spain.

With the other ports ranging from Galveston in Texas to Baltimore on the US east coast, and all points in between, he echoed Mr Cooper's forecast that the Grand Bahama destination will host an "amazing" four million passengers annually in 2028.

Reaffirming that the development is for real, with construction work already started, Mr Fernandez added that 36 piles that will form the foundation for the cruise ship docking pier have already arrived in Grand Bahama and are being driven into the ocean sea bed currently. "We're working around the clock," he promised.

Pre-cast concrete slabs and other construction materials are being manufactured in Nassau and shipped to Grand Bahama. 'We've elevated the land 12-15 feet to protect it from storm surges," Mr Fernandez said. "That's already completed and the land has settled.

"The lagoons are already dug out, and we have started laying out the electrical and plumbing on the site, and have already started building the foundations for restrooms and back of house. On-site today we have 184 Bahamian workers. They are on the construction side. Ninety-six percent of landside employees are Bahamian.

"We currently right now have 29 different Bahamian contractors, construction companies that are working on the site. I will say that more than 90 percent of are from Grand Bahama, so that's huge." Mr Fernandez said Greython, the US-based construction manager for Celebration Key, will only perform 5 percent of the work itself "and 95 percent of the jobs on-site will be sub-contracted to Bahamians."

Promising that there will be "many more to come" when it comes to local contractors, Mr Fernandez said Carnival will seek to hire more Bahamian management executives for Celebration Key in the second and third quarter this year, with supervisors to follow in the fourth quarter. Operational hirings for posts in housekeeping, life guards, landscapers, guest services and maintenance will occur in early 2025.

Mr Fernandez said Carnival had already finished interviewing the majority of applicants seeking to operate Celebration Key's large retail stores, sized at 1,200 square feet and upwards, with winners to be unveiled in March. Responses to the tender for standard stores, between 600 to 800 square feet, were "a good number" with that process due to close today and contracts to be awarded in April.

The Request for Proposal (RFP) for persons seeking to occupy artisans' booths, sized at 150 square feet, will be launched in fall 2024. Large food and beverage winners are being decided now, while the 14 "standard" size food outlets - such as coffee shops and food trucks - "received more than 40 responses" and will be awarded in April.

"I'm extremely excited about this destination that's going to come to life. The destinies of Carnival and The Bahamas are intertwined," Mr Fernandez said, pointing out that the 50th anniversary of the company's first cruise to this nation and the latter's 50th independence anniversary celebrations took place one year apart.

"This project is the biggest project we have made anywhere in the world. It will be a very unique destination and intertwine our futures even more. For Carnival to be successful, Grand Bahama needs to be successful."

During audience questions, Carnival executives said they are "definitely" considering how Bahamian visitors can have access to Celebration Key while warning that International Ship and Port Security (ISPS) regulations mean they cannot simply open it up to land-based visitors.

“As is fitting for our plans for Grand Bahama, our vision for Celebration Key is quite grand, and we’re already thinking about the next phase of expansion and development,” said Christine Duffy, Carnival's president.

“Building the second pier now allows us to implement growth plans and build itineraries with certainty, and signals to the local community just how important this development is to Carnival Cruise Line and the future of the island.”

Comments

K4C 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Gessus who write this gibberish from the government ??

Porcupine 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Poor Mr. Cooper. Deluded by all, including himself.

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