Small business operators who depend heavily on the cruise segment of the tourism sector are being warned not to expect any major business as Barbados begins to welcome more cruise visitors and even become a homeport for some cruise lines later this year. The caution has come from Minister of Tourism and International Transport Senator Lisa Cummins, who pleaded with those who depend on the cruise business to exercise some patience as things slowly pick back up.
She explained that while ships were beginning to dock, they were only operating at about 50 per cent capacity and not everyone would disembark. At the same time, she said, officials had to ensure that safety remained the top priority. “The key thing here has to be how do we sail safely, and that is what the cruise ships are concerned about, and that is what we are concerned about,” Cummins told journalists at a recent state of the tourism industry breakfast meeting at the Barbados Hilton.
“Not every passenger is disembarking. Some passengers are saying ‘I am happy to remain onboard the ship. I am happy to just cruise and be at sea, I am happy to not get off the ship at all’. So they are not getting off. It means colleagues that there is not going to be the kind of windfall just because the ship happens to pull up in port that we have been thinking about. It is not real anymore,” she explained.
Cummins added: “Everybody cannot compensate today for business which has been lost for over 15 months. It puts pressure on the port and the tourism team to be able to ensure that everybody can move around and to get what they have to get done safely, but there is a difficulty that we have to be able to navigate at the same time in terms of balancing public health. So it is that interim management that is ongoing”.
Cummins, who said she was also disheartened by the ongoing high unemployment among those who were directly and indirectly linked to the tourism sector, said keeping individuals safe meant that they had to be careful how cruise passengers interact on island.“The ship is conscious that they are travelling to five destinations on a seven-day itinerary all with different protocols and they have to keep people safe. So they are still treating to cruising in bubbles. You can’t get off the ship and go everywhere you want because in principle, you just came from another destination,” she explained.
“You have been screened onboard the ship yes, but we are not looking necessarily to create challenges for any of our islands with the resumption of cruises. We are doing it safely and gradually. And I am asking you to just be patient with both the ships and the administration as we navigate this,” said Cummins.
Several cruise ships have already resumed cruising with fully vaccinated passengers. The Celebrity Millennium resumed service to Barbados this month.
Meanwhile, the Seabourn Cruise Line, which also resumed service this month, is using Barbados as a homeport. More cruise lines are expected to come to Bridgetown by the end of the year.
Painting a picture of how tourism industry works have been impacted by the pandemic by either becoming unemployed or underemployed, Cummins said she was aware of individuals such as beach vendors, taxi operators, entertainers and other service providers who were struggling to make ends meet. “So while it is okay for people who are comfortably getting a monthly salary to say ‘don’t open back, don’t restart tourism’, they don’t hear those cries, they don’t see those people,” she said, pointing out that some 40,000 people, directly and indirectly linked to the tourism sector, have been affected by the pandemic.
“We are anxious about costs at events, but if a hotel or restaurant is only at 50 per cent capacity based on the number of cover they can carry safely under the public health protocols and they can’t bring back on 100 per cent of their staff, you have unemployment or underemployment,” she acknowledged.