Over the next decade, some 80 new vessels of all shapes and sizes are expected to join the cruise sector of the global tourism industry, and Barbados is seeking to capitalize on some of this new business.
Minister of Tourism and International Transport Kerrie Symmonds said, “Recent figures from [the] Florida Caribbean Cruise Association say some 80 cruise ships will be coming on stream between 2017 and 2026, and this year, 16 new ships will be taking to the water, representing 33,000 new berths. Currently, cruise ship passengers represent over 60 percent of Barbados’ visitor arrivals, and despite the promising growth prospects and increasing numbers – we recorded over 818,000 cruise passengers for 2017 – we cannot rest on our laurels.”
The minister said home porting had served Barbados well, “with a 30 per cent increase in this sector between 2008 and 2017. 22 per cent of our passenger arrivals, or some 137,000 people, have moved to and from this island via this method, and we have some major lines, including P & O from the UK, TUI, and Aida from Germany. Fred Olssen, now known as Marella Cruises, will be home porting this upcoming winter season with two vessels. Ideally, we want to become the major hub for home porting in the southern Caribbean”.
Symmonds, who was speaking at an event held to mark the 30th anniversary of the Freewinds cruise ship adding Barbados to its ports of call, disclosed that a water taxi and ferry service between the north, west, and south of the island would be starting shortly, and also announced plans for the other towns in Barbados. “Speightstown will become a heritage, artistic and culinary centre for the island, while Holetown will evolve into an entertainment and tourism district. We also plan to refresh the entertainment package in St. Lawrence Gap and want to make Oistins the epicentre for the fishing industry and related services.”
Minister of the Creative Economy, Sports and Culture John King, spoke of his close relationship with Freewinds, which started in 1992 when his then band, Sygnacha (pronounced Signature) was asked to open a performance for the ship’s band at Independence Square, and he came away impressed with the professionalism they demonstrated. He stated that “In 2004, the captain called me again to perform, and at that time I was going through some challenges in my personal life and I benefited from the self-development programmes they offer.”
In addition, King commended the vessel’s crew for their efforts in assisting ordinary Barbadians. “I have seen first hand how many of our young upcoming entertainers have been able to ply their trade on this vessel, to share their talents with persons whom they would probably have never come into contact with, and how everyday Barbadians can come onto this ship and have the experience of a lifetime.”
The ship’s captain, Mike Napier, who has been at the helm of the Freewinds from the time it made its inaugural visit here in 1988, outlined some of the activities the crew had participated in and the local organizations they had assisted during that time. “We have hosted hundreds of events with the Lions Club of St. Michael; the Sunshine Optimist Club; Kiwanis Club of Bridgetown, Rotary Club, the Department of Emergency Management; the Salvation Army; the Royal Commonwealth Society, the Good Shepherd Primary School; the St. James Parish Independence Committee; the Nightingale Home, the YMCA; the Barbados Association of Office Professionals; UWI and George Washington House. We have also done training in maritime safety and security in association with the Royal Barbados Police Force, the Barbados Fire Service, the DEM, the Barbados Defence Force and the Barbados Coast Guard.”
Beyond that, “We have held concerts to mark Barbados’ independence, and one year, we even converted one of the ship’s lifeboats into a float and had a Kadooment band for the Crop Over Festival,” Napier said. He also took the opportunity to thank Barbados Port Inc., the Customs and Immigration Department and Eric Hassell Shipping for the assistance they had provided to the cruise line over the years.