On a high from the record performance of the cruise sector this year, tourism officials and policymakers are targeting a million cruise passengers by 2019.
Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy could not hide his elation today as he waited at the Bridgetown Port to welcome the visitor who would take the number of arrivals past the 821,863 passengers who visited Barbados last year.
The 821,864th passenger was Laura Thiaman of Dayton, Ohio in the United States, who, along with her husband Tom, was surprised with a number of gifts by the local authorities.
“It is really exciting. It is a surprise,” said Thiaman, a first-time visitor, who arrived on the Windstar Star Pride this morning, and who said the decision to take a cruise to Barbados was a last minute one.
With another four vessels expected to dock here in the remaining days of 2017, Sealy expects to close the year with approximately 825,000 cruise visitors.
And amid the excitement, the minister promised to break the one million mark in the not-too-distant future.
“With the commitments that we have going forward there is no question that certainly by calendar year 2019 we will go past a million cruise passengers in Barbados for the first time,” he told journalists with obvious glee.
This many visitors would likely put the current facilities under pressure and render them inadequate, a fact that both Sealy and Chief Executive Officer of Bridgetown Port Inc (BPI) David Jean Marie acknowledged.
In fact, Jean Marie, who like the minister was over the moon at the record performance, said the port would continue to upgrade its facilities in order to welcome more cruise lines in coming years.
“We are at our maximum capacity here [and] we have to definitely improve and add however we can to the capacity of the port over the next few years,” he said.
At the same time, Sealy repeated a previous promise to build a controversial Berth 6, a project that was questioned by Opposition Leader Mia Mottley in her response to the Budget presentation earlier this year.
Back then Mottley had complained that the contract had been awarded to Mark Maloney “without it going to tender” and despite the fact that Berth 5, which opened in April last year, was built “at a cost overrun from $48 million to $63 million . . . $15 million more by one Mark Maloney”.
Sealy did not say when the project would begin, but said it would “call for some creativity” by BPI, including how best to finance it.
“There are plans to look to see how we process cruise passengers . . . . This [the Bridgetown Port] is a wonderful cruise terminal but clearly it can only handle so many passengers on any given day. So we are looking activity at the separate facility for processing cruise passengers.”
A new cruise ship terminal has been mooted since 2010, when BPI selected Sugar Point, a joint venture of SMI Infrastructure Solutions and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, to undertake a front end engineering design study for the facility adjacent to the existing port.
However, there has been no visible movement on the $300 million project, which was to include three 350 metre-long pile-supported piers providing berths for six large ships, a cruise terminal building and associated infrastructure, multi-use land-side development and the separation of cruise and cargo operations.
Both Sealy and Jean Marie have alluded to the cost of the project as the reason for the delay.
However, both men appeared upbeat today about the prospect of a cruise facility in Speightstown, St Peter to accommodate smaller cruise vessels.
It is a subject that has been raised repeatedly by Member of Parliament for St Lucy Denis Kellman, who believes such a facility would be good for businesses in the north of the island.
Sealy today said the idea had been
receiving attention, and there were plans to have the ships dock offshore and passengers carried to shore by small boats, but this would require refurbishment of the old Speightstown jetty.
The minister said the finer details of the plan were yet to be finalized, and with a general election mere months away, he did not commit to a firm date for the commencement of work.
However, Jean Marie told reporters BPI would play a significant role in the development of the cruise facility in the north.
“The port will refurbish the Speightstown jetty, which will be an integral part of tourism to the north,” he said, while suggesting that the development could come on stream following the planned construction of Sandals Beaches by 2020 at the old Almond Hotel site in Speightstown.
“We hope to have a lot more water taxis working closely with Sandals and the water sports people here in Bridgetown to move cruise passengers. We want to improve life of Speightstown and we are starting with the jetty,” Jean Marie said.
The anticipated 825,000 cruise passengers for this year would fall short of the 834,438 which Sealy had predicted in early October while announcing that as of September there were 553,869 cruise passenger visits to Barbados.
However, the minister explained that hurricanes Irma and Maria, along with Hurricane Harvey, had impacted the cruise sector here, after Carnival Cruise Lines cancelled the weekly calls by Carnival Fascination, which was redirected to assist with relief efforts in Puerto Rico.
Still, Barbados benefitted from the redirection of several vessels which were originally scheduled to visit the affected countries.
However, Sealy dismissed any notion this year’s record arrivals were due merely to the impact of the storms on the neighbouring countries.
“I know there will be those who are saying the only reason we are here now is because of the bad weather that affected the northern part of the Caribbean recently with the three hurricanes. However . . . we actually lost although the hurricane didn’t affect us. Cruise Barbados was impacted and in the face of that we were still able to get close to our target because of some hard work done by officials here at the port and Barbados Tourism Management Inc,” Sealy said.