Government is heading north with a cruise ship berth expansion plan and ditching, for now, a sprawling Sugar Point Cruise Pier project which was proposed by the former Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration to transform the Princess Alice Highway/Harbour Road area.
This was revealed by Minister of Tourism and International Transport Kerrie Symmonds, who said that as part of Government’s new master plan for the cruise industry, either the northern towns of Holetown or Speightstown would become a main port for luxury vessels.
The tourism minister briefed journalists on Wednesday evening, following a meeting with the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) and local industry figures at the Limegrove Lifestyle Centre.
He said a request for proposals for the development of a port in either Speightstown or Holetown was expected to go out “during the course of this year”.
The minister said: “What I can also say to you at this stage is that Government’s policy is clear. We are going to look to the northwest of the island… Speightstown and Holetown, as potential landing sites, because we believe that we can relieve some of the congestion at the [Bridgetown] Port, first of all.”
“[We will] vary the experience in Barbados by having a landing done in that area so that the small luxury vessels with 2,000 and less passengers and the super yachts, would berth in those parts of Barbados and connect then immediately to some of the nice inland attractions we have in the north of the island.”
He said this would “diversify the arrivals experience in Barbados” and easily allow for more entrepreneurs across the island to benefit from the economic benefits.
“It helps to spread the financial benefits because in all that we do we are trying to find ways to make cruise tourism more financially rewarding for the ordinary people across Barbados,” said Symmonds.
The size of the on again, off again $500 million Sugar Point Cruise terminal that was earmarked for the location between the Bridgetown Port and the Bridgetown Fishing Complex, is to be reviewed.
“We have to look at the scale, design and costing and all those things,” Symmonds said.
The first phase of the multi-million dollar project, which was touted by the DLP, was to start in 2015. But plans were shelved in 2016, after the government decided that the economy was too fragile for the project to start.
The tourism minister also said that the nine-month-old Barbados Labour Party (BLP) administration would not carry out the project while putting any unnecessary strain on the already struggling economy.
Symmonds said: “It has to be done in a sensible manner. So yes, it is on the cards. I think it is going to have to be revisited in the context of the scale of the investment, because the truth of the matter is that building new berths especially for home porting, is a very expensive exercise.”
“We are thinking it through and trying to make sure it is a good fit financially and in terms of its sustainability because we cannot go paint a beautiful picture and then not be able to finance it and it collapses. So you have to make sure that these things make sense, so we are working through all the issues.”
With 78 new ships scheduled to go into commission over the next six years from member cruise lines of the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association, FCCA president Michele Paige said she was eager to see Barbados benefit from some of that business, but said it depended heavily on what Barbados does from here on.
Paige told reporters: “I can tell you that the Prime Minister Mia Mottley and the Minister [of Tourism] have the respect and confidence of the cruise lines…. We have two protocols – we go where passengers want to go and go where we can make the most money.”
Symmonds also revealed that the Government still plans to increase the home-porting business. But he pointed out that there were some basic needs that the country must be able to satisfy.
He said: “We must be sure that we can provide ships with their vegetables and whatever else they may need in terms of the menu and diet. We must be able to make sure that all the services are given in as professional a manner as possible. But it is something I want to see increase.”
He also disclosed that a public/private sector partnership with taxi operators had been developed to ensure that visitors get a more Barbadian experience while spreading the tourist spend.
The minister told the media: “I can tell you now that we have settled into a programme with the taxi operators in the Bridgetown Port, where we will have a bespoke operation branded as authentic Barbados and we will be taking people to where they can find culinary experiences, beach and soft adventures, ecotourism. We want to make sure that we can move people to these attractions.”