|The Bahamas Investor Magazine
July 13, 2011
July 13, 2011
Tourism may have slowed over the last couple of years, but the cruise sector is proving to be remarkably robust. Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham announced earlier this year that, according to government figures, total visitor arrivals in 2010 rose by 13 per cent year on year to 5.2 million, with sea arrivals—accounting for 75 per cent of total visitors—rising by 16.5 per cent to around four million. This growth has been attributed to a combination of increased port calls from major cruise lines and higher capacity ships.
Ministry of Tourism and Aviation (MOTA) data for the first month of this year show a similar upward trend, with cruise ship visitor arrivals increasing 19.9 per cent from the same period a year earlier. These figures were in contrast to an 18.7 per cent dip in air arrivals.
“Because the number of cruise passengers is always higher than the number of air arrivals, total arrivals rose by 8.4 per cent,” said MOTA Minister Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace during the mid-term budget debate in March. “This is a sign of the times. The global recession has affected everyone and because of this, people are choosing the cheaper way to travel, which for many, is by cruise ship. In many cases, the cost of the cruise to The Bahamas is often lower than the cost of the airfare to The Bahamas.”
Early predictions for spring 2011 cruise figures are also bullish.
The continued health of the sector has encouraged cruise lines to rollout bigger ships to accommodate those seafarers keen on setting sail for The Bahamas and the wider Caribbean region. The last couple of years have seen Royal Caribbean International add the world’s biggest superliners to its fleet of vessels touring these areas, with inaugural Nassau visits by the 220,000-tonne Oasis of the Seas and its sister ship Allure of the Seas in December 2009 and December 2010, respectively.
Disney this year added Disney Dream to its Caribbean region line-up, with the cruise liner making an inaugural visit to The Bahamas’ capital in January. At $900 million the 130,000-tonne vessel boasts 14 decks, 1,250 staterooms and is the biggest in Disney’s fleet, carrying up to 4,000 passengers and 1,500 crew. It will operate on a three-, four-, or five-night cruise schedule with destinations in The Bahamas, including Disney’s own private island, Castaway Cay. Disney Dream is one of two new ships planned by Disney, its sister vessel, to be named Disney Fantasy, is already under construction and is scheduled to have its inaugural cruise on April 7, 2012.
New rates, better deals
Tapping into the renewed vigour in the market, Disney is expanding routes as of summer 2012 to include an eight-night Bahamas cruise leaving from New York’s Manhattan Cruise Terminal.
Similarly, Carnival Cruise Lines has just introduced a slew of four- and five-day Fun Ship cruises to The Bahamas starting later this year. Cruises will begin on November 7, with the 2,052-passenger Carnival Ecstasy departing from Port Canaveral, Florida. Long weekend cruises will run on Thursdays to Nassau and Half Moon Cay or Freeport, while five-day cruises will leave on Mondays and Saturdays and will call at Nassau, Freeport, Half Moon Cay or Key West.
Not to be outdone, Royal Caribbean are offering four-night fall Bahamas cruises on board Majesty of the Seas in October, leaving Miami and stopping at Nassau, Coco Cay and Key West.
Garnering its slice of a niche market in themed cruises, music cruise organizer Sixthman has announced plans for another Elvis Cruise–its fifth–to kick off on January 12, 2012. The four-night, “all-Elvis-all-the-time extravaganza” will take place on the Carnival Fascination as it sails out of Jacksonville, Florida, to The Bahamas. Next year’s sailing will include appearances and performances by Elvis tribute artists, former band mates and co-stars, Sixthman says. Passengers will also hear stories about the “King” from photojournalist Al Wertheimer and Hollywood actress Cynthia Pepper, among others. The cruise will also include Elvis-themed parties and activities, organizers say.
Although The Bahamas is the premier cruise resort in the region, the impact on the local economy is debatable.
“When we look at the number of cruise visitors who come into the port of Nassau now, there is no other destination in this region that even comes close to what we estimate this year is going to be 2.4 million cruise passengers who come here to the port of Nassau,” Minister Vanderpool-Wallace said at a recent event in Nassau. “But increased numbers alone are not the objective.”
The key, he pointed out, is getting the passengers off the ships and into local retail and service businesses. To this end the government implemented and has since updated the Cruise Ship Overnighting Act. The act allows cruise ships docked at Prince George Dock in Nassau for at least 13 hours or travelling to or from designated ports to operate casinos and shops and sell liquor 7pm-12 midnight. The act also provides discounts on port taxes. Cruise lines transporting more than 600,000 passengers per year are charged a reduced departure tax for every passenger exceeding that number over the course of a year.
“Cruise passengers spend more time on land in the port of Nassau than any place else in this entire region,” says Minister Vanderpool-Wallace.