The Adrian Loveridge Column – Minister Symmonds Press Conference Triggers Alarm
Having watched the recent interview with the new Minister of Tourism and International Transport in its entirety, where he concluded that our cruise sector is in ‘a state of deep crisis’, frankly I was quite shocked.
Like many of us who have substantially invested in land-based tourism, we are left with the overwhelming opinion that our cruise competitors continue to contribute a disproportional miniscule amount to promoting Barbados and upgrading the destinations physical appearance.
According to published data, in 2017 the port processed a total of 818,752 cruise ship passengers, of which included 33.5 per cent (222,322) came from the United Kingdom, 28.4 per cent (188,970) from the United States and 12.8 per cent (85,209) from Canada.
Of the overall total, 137,541 stayed overnight, prior or post voyage, presumably in a mixture of accommodation options.
The Minister emphasised the need to upgrade and enlarge both the port and airport if we have any hope of attracting the new larger ships including the Oasis Class vessels which can accommodate over 6,000 passengers plus crew. Industry experts state that 97 new ships are being launched between 2017 and 2026, many of which will have greater capacity than currently in service.
If this is within stated Government’s plan, then where are the funds to ensure this happens, going to be found?
In real terms, our cruise sector already avoids (or even evades) the massive taxes and recently imposed unbudgeted operating costs forced onto our land based tourism providers.
For instance, will the cruise ship companies be obliged to pay the 50 per cent increase in water supplies? And, again, I repeat, will at least those 137,541 stay-over passengers be charged the new US$70 secondary airport tax (Airline Travel and Tourism Development Fee)?
Surely these are not unreasonable questions, so why is the administration reluctant to clearly enunciate the answers?
Hopefully, the newly convened 15 member National Cruise Development Commission will address these and other issues and help to identify and implement creative ways to significantly increase average cruise passenger spend per visit, taking it much closer to the typical spend in other neighbouring Caribbean islands.
Of course no-one should forget that it is in the own cruise operators interest to entice maximum spend on-board and when you consider their access to global sourcing and bulk buying, it is almost folly to think that our land based retailers could compete on anything approaching a level playing field.
So we have to offer, and ensure, that every passenger knows of unique experiences available onshore, if there is any reasonable chance of enticing more of the ships and into Bridgetown and beyond.
Sadly I believe that successive Governments have failed to transform Bridgetown into an attractive capital despite its incredible close proximity to the port. Likewise, the same could be said of Pelican Craft Village, where for decades the tenants have been complaining about the poor marketing of the facility.
And despite the rise in cruise passengers arrivals, albeit with a negative increase in spending, opportunities like the area around the Marshall Hall building have been squandered, when with private/public section co-operation, this could have been transformed into a potential goldmine, incorporating a waterside restaurant ‘village’ similar to Marigot in French Saint Martin.
We live in hope!