The head of one of the island’s major entertainment centres has directly contradicted Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds, who recently said the cruise sector here was in a “deep state of crisis”.
Sean DeFreitas, manager of The Boatyard at Carlisle Bay, The City, yesterday suggested that with the island welcoming a record 818,752 cruise passengers last year, it was not true to say the sector was in crisis.
However, DeFreitas admitted there were problems facing the sector here, not least among which was that it was in the hands of too few people.
“The real problem is that it is controlled by too small a sector, which has not come together to form a stronger force. If we have as many as 800,000 [plus] cruise ship passengers arriving, we have a great opportunity to convert them to long stay visitors,” he told the radio programme, Brass Tacks Sunday, on Starcom Radio Network.
Symmonds had said at a recent news conference that a study on the industry had revealed that despite rising numbers of arrivals, the sector was failing, with cruise passenger spend falling to a low 47 per cent within the past ten years.
Quoting surveys by the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), Symmonds said the average spend of the 725,020 cruise visitors to Barbados in 2016 was US$60, dropping to US$58 in 2017 despite the record 818,752 cruise arrivals.
“In my view, unless imminent and immediate and fundamental alternatives are put in place, we are confronting ourselves with catastrophic failure,” the Minister stressed.
Symmonds has also announced a 15-member national cruise development commission to further develop the sector.
The Boatyard is popular among cruise ship crews, DeFreitas said, because it provides the sort of experience they are looking for.
“Visitors do research now before they travel, and they are more interested in individual activities rather than mass market tours. If we want to create diverse opportunities we should look more at community based activities,” he stressed.
The radio programme, which focused on how to improve the sector’s performance, included among its guests, Marlon Brathwaite, a Barbadian who works with one of the major cruise lines.
Brathwaite recommended that the Bridgetown Port considers opening its doors to locals, which would allow them to mix with the passengers, offering a more authentic Barbados experience in the process.
“In St Maarten and St Kitts . . . the bars and other facilities in the port are open to everyone, so visitors can interact with the locals as they arrive, buy food at local prices, and there is live music. Here, we give visitors a staged show with Mother Sallies and a tuk band, which is somewhat artificial. We should consider modernizing our port, adding more bars, along with food and fruit stalls for the passengers to give them a real taste of Barbados from the time they land. Also in those countries, people can walk straight out of the port into the city centre, unlike Barbados where they have to walk a fairly long distance or take a taxi,” he said, while going on to state that the product here was also stale.
“People love the island but after coming here for a while they tend not to get off the ships because there’s nothing new for them to do.”
In this context, businessman Reginald Medford of Medford Mahogany Creations said visitors were willing to pay top dollar for custom made indigenous memorabilia. “We have a wide cross section of products that can be sold at higher prices, and when visitors see something indigenous that links them to the country, they will pull their credit cards and buy. A number of artists now have locations tour buses and taxis can come to, and visitors like to see products being made and interacting with the artists as they work on them, and I believe this is a market we need to develop,” Medford recommended. (DH)