Caribbean islands investing big as cruise arrivals boom
As visitor arrivals from Cruise ship visits in the Caribbean grow, many islands are making big investments to ensure the industry stays on an upward trajectory.
All over the region, Governments are investing in port upgrades and expanding the range of attractions for tourists looking for experiences beyond the beach.
According to the Caribbean Tourism Organisational Quarterly Statistical Report, Caribbean destinations received an estimated 10.7 million cruise visits in the first quarter of 2019.
This record number of cruise visits was an increase of 9.9 percent or 0.9 million more cruise arrivals when compared to the same period of 2018 which contracted by -2.0 percent.
In the English-speaking Caribbean, The Bahamas with 1.5 million visitor arrivals in the first quarter of this year, an increase of 11.2 percent, dominated cruise arrivals.
Joy Jibrilu, Director General of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, attributes a large part of the country’s booming cruise sector to geography.
“Last year we received 6.6 million visitor arrivals. Just over 1.6 million were stopover and five million were cruise arrivals. We are number one and that’s not going to change, it’s the gift of geography, it makes it very easy to leave Florida and come over,” she told Loop at the Caribbean Tourism Organisation’s Caribbean Week in New York.
With 700 islands, The Bahamas also provides the perfect opportunity for cruise lines to do long term leases on some islands. Royal Caribbean, which has a lease on CocoCay, recently unveiled a $250 million upgrade called Perfect Day at CocoCay which includes attractions such as water slides and zip lines.
Jibrilu said investments are being made on the main islands as well so cruise visitors will have a more diverse offering.
“What is important and critical is that those of us in Nassau and Freeport lift our product and upgrade our offering so they don’t just have the benefit of the private island. We are making huge investments in the Port of Nassau. The Prince George dock has entered into an agreement with Global Port Holdings and they are doing a $250 million upgrade to the Port of Nassau. There should be an agreement in place by the end of the year and a 24 month build up,” she said.
Antigua, too, has a 30-year agreement with Global Port Holdings to invest over US$80 million for the further development of St. John’s Harbour – which includes the cruise ship docking facilities at Heritage Quay and Redcliffe Quay.
Minister of Tourism, Investment and Economic Development, Charles Fernandez, in May signed a ten-year agreement with President and CEO of Royal Caribbean International, Michael Bayley, for an increase in cruise passengers visiting Antigua and Barbuda’s ports and the development of the facilities.
Minister Fernandez said that simultaneously, Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited and Global Ports Holding Plc signed an agreement establishing a partnership between the two entities.
In a release, he said the agreement includes a strategy to double passenger volumes, increasing to 500,000 annually within five years.
The increase will begin annually upon completion of the fifth berth, which will see Royal Caribbean schedule its Oasis class vessels to call regularly into Antigua.
The Cayman Islands is also investing in port expansion to accommodate the Oasis class vessels. Minister for District Administration, Tourism and Transport, Moses Kirkconnell, told Loop that they are in the process of building four berths to facilitate the cruise line.
Last year, The Cayman islands saw 1.9 million cruise visitor arrivals.
Kirkconnell said the island is perfectly positioned between Jamaica and Cuba or as he tells people halfway between Bob Marley and Fidel Castro.
“People ask, what do we want stayover or cruise? We want it all, we want both but the important thing is for us to balance it and by balance we mean the Caymanian people. We make sure we offer scholarships, we have the hospitality school and we provide them with the skill sets they need to participate in the industry and be successful,” he said, noting that the cruise industry encourages entrepreneurship.
In order to enhance their visitors’ experience, Grenada is investing in community tourism.
“We are working with a cruise consultancy to see what we really offer visitors when they come to Grenada. They don’t stay on the ship so when they come off the ship and they explore the island, we want them to experience pure Grenada, that has been our focus,” said Patricia Maher, the Chief Executive Officer of the Grenada Tourism Authority (GTA).
Brenda Hood, Chairman of the GTA, said to that end they are pushing community tourism.
“We want it to be sustainable, and the monies need to trickle down. When you go throughout the length and breadth of the country you mix the food, the agriculture, the art, the craft. This is what the executives of the cruise lines are saying, they are saying they want more, they just don’t want to lie on the sand. We are excited that the product is getting better and better,” she said, revealing that a special desk is being created at the Ministry of Tourism to oversee the community aspect which includes training and lifting standards in the packaging and labeling of products.
Cecil Mckie, Minister of Tourism, Sport and Culture in St Vincent, told Loop that they are also looking to improve the visitor experience.
“We did a lot of homework in terms of the packages that we offer, did a lot of discussions with FCCA and otherwise including the Tourism Authority, the Ministry of Tourism, the Port Authority to better improve the services we can offer the cruisers when they come to the destination and made the necessary adjustments,” he told Loop at the Caribbean Week.
He said before the end of the year St Vincent will begin construction on a new cargo port in Kingstown.
“What that will do is open up the upper side of the port so we can do a little expansion to the existing cruise terminal and additional space will be made available for a vending area. That will improve arrival and docking facility but also what we have to offer as a destination,” he said.