Barbados’ cruise tourism sector continues to grow, with 853,200 passengers arriving here via that route in 2019, up from the previous high of 826,267 cruise ship visitors recorded in 2018.
The numbers, according to the Barbados Port Inc., can be attributed to the re-routing of vessels following the major hurricanes recorded in some of the other more significant ports of call in the region over the last two years, as well as the fact that some of the cruise lines have switched to bigger vessels in this region.
It is no secret that the cruise tourism industry has experienced unprecedented growth, and is expected to grow even further in the coming years.
In fact, by 2027, 112 new ships are expected to come into the industry, and some of these are “mega-ships” which can accommodate over 5,000 passengers.
With that in mind, Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy, Kirk Humphrey, has spoken about plans to enhance the Bridgetown Port’s facilities to accommodate these, as well as smaller ships.
“With the trend towards mega-ships and the projected increase in cruise tourism passengers, Barbados Port Inc. also has to respond to the growing number 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.”
To this end, Barbados Port Inc. is seriously considering the establishment of a second port in Speightstown, St. Peter.
According to Minister Humphrey, “This will be part of the product differentiation thrust which will position Barbados to capture the superyachts and small luxury-class cruise vessel segments of the cruise industry.
“It will also create growth opportunities for residents and businesses operating in the north of the island.”
Here is some food for thought. Some time ago, the National Cruise Development Commission held a conference where Claudia Pohl, the International Business Development Manager with the Aquila Center for Cruise Excellence based in New Brunswick, Canada, which provides training on behalf of the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association, shared her views on the industry.
The first point she noted was: “The Caribbean now represents 39 per cent of world cruise market, but our main competition is the Mediterranean, which grew to 17.9 per cent rapidly, and Asia is also growing. Barbados is competing against big destinations, not other Caribbean islands.”
Pohl stressed that the sector is multi-dimensional, so as we think about building another harbour, we must decide what we want to focus on.
She said: “We have many different types of cruises. There are mass-market mega-ships, small ships, and the luxury market which is very high end.
“We find that the millennials are going on the smaller ships as they want more authentic experiences within a more intimate atmosphere.
“Now, large ships concentrate on the onboard ship experience, and the destination is a bit irrelevant, as they do not spend much time in the port.
“On the other hand, small ships are about experiencing the land, the country is the destination, as these vessels go where the bigger ships cannot.”
She continued: “Thee average customer is 50 years old, and tend to be married couples that make about US$97,000 a year.
“They look for ‘wow’ experiences, to learn something new, personal growth, bragging rights, entertainment, value for time and value for money, so if you want to create a new product for the cruise line, you need to check off all of these.”
Speightstown does present some advantages in terms of attractiveness to visitors.
First, it is closer to attractions like Farley Hill, St. Nicholas Abbey and the east coast of the island than Bridgetown, so ideally that should result in lower taxi fares if visitors head to those areas.
It should not be too difficult to establish walking tours around the city centre similar to what obtains in Bridgetown, and not too far away there is Moontown and other facilities which can be further developed along the lines of Oistins, albeit on a smaller scale.
The minister said the port’s management has “invited potential partners to express interest in a joint venture to design, build, operate and manage the facility”.
However, it is important that some feasibility studies and environmental impact assessments take place.
These studies must seek the views of people who have lived in the area for years who can advise the developers based on ‘real-world experiences’ rather than hypothetical ones, and those developers must be willing to take the opinions of those residents seriously.
And before any work commences in earnest, residents and businesses should be compensated or accommodated elsewhere if necessary early in the game.
With careful planning and execution, a port facility in Speightstown can become a real showpiece for the north of the island.