The local pleasure cruise sector could be hit by layoffs as operators struggle to recoup millions of dollars in COVID-related business losses over the past two years and maintain staff levels in the face of an expected bleak summer tourist season.
The assessment was made on Friday by director and owner of Cool Runnings Catamaran Cruises, Robert Povey, on the heels of news that the iconic Jolly Roger had been placed on the market for $350 000.
The party ship, which made its first sailing trip out of the Careenage in Bridgetown in 1969, entertained locals and visitors for decades.
Povey said while he was not aware of any other local cruise companies planning to fold, that could happen, especially for those that depend on tourists.
“I would say it is very possible . . . . Especially now going into summer, it’s definitely going to be a struggle,” Povey, who has been in the sector for 25 years told Barbados TODAY.
Povey, whose company has at times assisted the 53-year-old Jolly Roger, said it went out of business due to a combination of circumstances – the death of its owner Martin Bynoe and the lack of cruise ships coming here. “Martin was very good in that area [party cruises] and that’s the unfortunate thing, that he passed away. That has contributed to the Jolly Roger not operating . . . and also the lack of cruise ships,” the entrepreneur said.
Looking at the industry as a whole, the Cool Runnings boss said his colleagues who operate 30 to 40 catamarans and two to three larger cruise vessels are currently in survival mode.
He said the COVID-19 pandemic and the disappointing summer ahead did not make things any better.
In fact, Povey said he has had to dip into his own pockets to keep his workers employed and he believes some employees in the sector may have to be sent home during the late June to September period.
“Maybe in summer. I myself have struggled because I like to keep my employees. I have a good relationship with them. I had to use my savings to keep some of these guys that I have known for 15 and 20 years, who not just work for me but I know and love and I really respect them,” he said.
“My struggle was that I had to dip into whatever savings that I had to be able to keep everyone at a level, and I was hoping that summer would be better than it is looking . . . . I am hoping that layoffs would not be around the corner for this long summer.”
Turning his focus to the financial fallout from the pandemic, Povey expressed deep concern at the substantial debts of cruise and pleasure boat businesses which have had a domino effect on other areas.
“I would definitely have to say millions and millions of dollars, not just in the cruise industry but everyone that is attached to it . . . taxi drivers, chefs . . . . I myself have four chefs that work for me alone. There [are] about 30 or 40 different taxi drivers that work in the industry, and that is only one company. So, if you add up everyone, it is quite large,” the catamaran company owner said.
Povey said patronage had picked back up since the COVID-19 restrictions had been lifted, but he warned that industry players will have a hard time during the summer.
However, the businessman did not predict all doom and gloom for the sector, as he said he anticipates an encouraging winter tourist season.
“I think the winter is looking pretty good. I am hoping that by November the cruise ships will start back up. It is not my full market, but I much rather when the cruise ships are here. It is spread throughout the entire industry in every area of our economy,” Povey said.
He suggested that the various players in the local cruise business diversify rather than depend on tourist arrivals, although he acknowledged that it would be a financial challenge to make such a move at this time.
“I think a lot of them [businesses] are in the hole after COVID, in different debt . . . . To diversify now is going to be also challenging because they still have to try and get back two years of losses,” he pointed out.