2019 was a record year for Barbados’ cruise tourism as arrivals topped 800,000-plus visitors in a slight rise over the previous year, the Barbados Port Inc (BPI) reported Tuesday.
And boosted by the news, Minister of Maritime Affairs Kirk Humphrey has touted a raft of planned improvements for the industry, including a second cruise port, a mega ship cruise centre and marina.
Cruise ship passenger arrivals totalled 853,200 from 422 cruise ship calls, representing a three per cent rise in arrivals at the Port of Bridgetown over 2018 when the country welcomed 826,267 passengers from 437 berths.
The island benefitted from the redeployment of ships from other destinations ravaged by hurricanes.
According to the BPI, Barbados also recorded significant growth in its homeporting operations. Some 227,192 homeporting arrivals were registered at the Port of Bridgetown in 2019, a 15.6 per cent increase over 2018 when 197,185 homeporting passengers passed through the port.
Homeporting calls declined slightly from 157 in 2018 to 153 last year, but the visitor growth was achieved with the Marella, AIDA and TUI cruise lines all deploying larger capacity ships.
On the Barbados itinerary, AIDA exchanged its 2,030 passenger capacity AIDA Diva, for the AIDA Perla, which carries 3,286 passengers. TUI similarly exchanged its Mein Schiff 5 with a capacity of 2,500, for the 2,894 passenger Mein Schiff 2. The number of calls from Marella also increased from 31 in 2018 to 45 in 2019.
Humphrey linked the port’s improved performance to several upgrades to its cruise operations to benefit passengers as recommended by the National Cruise Development Commission Report.
The improvements included enhanced wayfinding and guest experiences through the installation of signage, the renovation of the taxi dispatch facilities and new services such as a quay-to-terminal tram.
He noted that BPI has also been actively engaging cruise lines, in partnership with key industry stakeholders including Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc (BTMI).
Looking to the future, Humphrey said: “With the trend towards mega ships and the projected increase in cruise tourism passengers, BPI also has to respond to the growing numbers of smaller vessel operations, who desire a more geographically segmented product for their passengers, physically separated from the large vessel cruise tourism typically handled at the Port of Bridgetown.”
BPI has also shifted attention to establishing a second cruise port at Speightstown through a public-private partnership.
It has invited potential partners to express interest in a joint venture to design, build, operate and manage a cruise ship pier and ancillary facilities in the northern town.
Humphrey explained: “Establishment of cruise facilities in the north of the island is part of the product differentiation thrust which will position Barbados to capture the super yachts and small luxury class cruise vessels segments of the cruise industry.”
The proposal to develop cruise facilities in Speightstown is expected to create growth opportunities for residents and existing businesses in the area, he added.
The Maritime Affairs Minister touted the initiative as not just construction but a developmental project, incorporating planning gains agreed to by Cabinet for new projects and promising additional benefits for the surrounding community.
BPI is also seeking joint venture partners to design and build additional berths and support facilities at the Shallow Draught of the Bridgetown Port. The Minister said this development is intended to drive marina business in recreational boating and yachting.
The Bridgetown Port is also currently reviewing plans for separating the mega cruise vessel operations from cargo handling at the Deep Water Harbour, to ensure that the service levels to each sector can be better streamlined, particularly with respect to specific homeporting requirements. Humphrey said discussions are currently underway with potential partners for the mega cruise ship project.
Bridgetown’s cruise-ship schedule for 2020 projects a total of 427 cruise ship calls, bringing an estimated 850,000 passengers to the island.