Cruise island expansion will lead to 149% increase in visitors
By NEIL HARTNELL
Editor-in-chief of the Tribune
Visitors to a cruise line’s private Bahamas island are expected to increase by more than 427,000 a year once two piers are built to allow its ships to dock properly, it has been revealed.
The revised Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for Norwegian Cruise Line’s (NCL) proposed port expansion at Great Stirrup Cay, which has been seen by Tribune Business, predicts the destination will receive 714,000 passengers a year when the “pre-COVID 19 browsing trends” will return with this number increasing by 10-15% per year in the future.
Explaining the rationale for the docks, the document reveals that the inability of NCL’s cruise ships to dock at the Berry Islands location forced it to ferry visitors ashore using smaller ferries. In bad weather, however, passengers cannot be transferred between cruise ships and ferries, which would have resulted in “missed calls” and lost revenue for NCL and Bahamas shore-based visitors.
The EIA said a study showed that three-foot high waves could lead to the cancellation of up to 31% – almost a third – of cruise ship visits if they called daily unless the two new piers are built. The plans are to be discussed at a public meeting in Great Harbor Cay on August 9, as required by the Environmental Planning and Protection Act, and which can be attended virtually or in person.
NCL owns all of Great Stirrup Cay, save 25 acres of Crown land, and is said to have “increasingly invested in evolving the island experience from a destination stopover on an island sparsely inhabited at a site offering leisure options such as restaurants and shopping, and a day of water sports and excursions for the adventurous”.
“Since NCL began using Great Stirrup Cay as a destination facility for cruise ships in the late 1970s, passengers have been ferried to the island aboard large passenger tenders from the cruise ship anchored offshore. in deeper water to the embarkation/disembarkation docks in the basin, or in the early stages, directly via a beach disembarkation,” the EIA said.
“NCL and its passengers have significantly missed calls to port due to inclement weather when ferries are unable to safely load and carry passengers due to strong winds and rough seas, which results in wasted experience for cruise passengers and loss of revenue. both for local Bahamian employees and suppliers, and for NCL, which depends on visitors to the island.
“To reduce missed calls and lost revenue, and to reinforce NCL’s commitment to improving the guest experience, as part of its master plan, NCL is proposing to construct two permanent cruise docks on the north side of the island to allow cruise ship docking with direct access to the island.”
The EIA, carried out by Bahamian company Islands by Design, with assistance from a Florida company, Cummins Cederberg, added: “Using wave analysis to determine the potential reduction in downtime with the construction of new piers, it has been estimated that with a three-foot wave threshold, downtime could be as high as 30.9% assuming the island receives ships daily.
“Actual downtime could be higher or lower depending on the island’s call schedule. To reduce this number, NCL offers cruise piers to improve mooring vessel safety and guest access to the island during inclement weather conditions.
The construction of the pier and associated expansion is expected to create 85 jobs during the construction phase, with completion expected to increase annual visitor numbers by over 149%. “Great Stirrup Cay, as a private island destination, employs approximately 150 people on the cay,” the EIA said.
“The pier and expansion project plans to employ some 85 construction workers during construction. Additionally, Bahamian owned and operated outlets service NCL customers on the cay. In 2019, Great Stirrup Cay welcomed 286,357 guests. As part of pre-COVID-19 trends, NCL expects to see an increase in passenger numbers of 714,000 once the pier is operational.
“Due to the increased efficiency of landing and boarding passengers at the cay, it is expected that customers will spend an additional two to three hours on the cay once the jetty is operational. This additional time on the cay will allow additional footfall to local retailers and the ability to expand sightseeing excursions to meet increased customer demand.
Based on the increase in passenger numbers projected by NCL, annual government tax revenue from Great Stirrup Cay could increase by $7.704 million per year if the project continues and 714,000 visitors arrive to produce growth net of 428,000.
“The development of Great Stirrup Cay is in line with the national development plan to have an anchor project in each family island,” the EIA added. “In addition to the sponsorship of visitors by local entrepreneurs, the government levies a passenger tax on visitors to the country.
“A passenger tax of $29 is levied on all airline passengers and a passenger tax of $18 is levied on all cruise ship passengers. It is predicted that in a return to pre-COVID 19 boating trends, Great Stirrup Cay expects to welcome 714,000 visitors after the expansion with a 10-15% increase in passenger numbers per year as the passenger utilization stabilizes.
The EIA, however, does not provide details on how revenues and profits for Bahamian vendors at Great Stirrup Cay will be boosted by the construction of the pier and improved passenger access. Many Bahamians remain wary of the cruise industry‘s private islands, seeing them as places where the sector reaps all the benefits while local entrepreneurs fight for a share of the leftovers.
“The project will result in immediate job creation and increased direct sales and service revenues during the dredging and construction phases,” the EIA added in general terms. “Additional economic benefits to the Bahamas include the continued arrival of tourists and increased Bahamian revenue due to investment in infrastructure.
“Implementation of the project would also mitigate economic losses to vendors and traders resulting from missed ports of call and lost wages due to the closure of facilities on the island occupied by residents of Great Harbor Cay and nearby islands. .”
The EIS, which has been updated to take into account requests and modifications requested by the Department of Environmental Planning and Protection (DEPP), as well as recent developments, indicates that the project initially received the go-ahead from the former Minnis administration on January 2, 2020, but was delayed more than two years by COVID and the devastating impact the pandemic has had on cruise industry finances by halting shipping for 15 months.
The Bahamas Investment Authority (BIA), in a letter to Erica Paine, attorney for Graham, Thompson & Company acting for NCL, said the National Economic Council (NEC) had approved “significant renovations and improvements at Great Stirrup Cay by construction of a jetty and dredging/excavation of a deep water basin, as well as the construction of additional developments and facilities” subject to the approval of the relevant regulatory bodies.
A seabed lease for an area yet to be determined and on undisclosed financial terms has also been approved to accommodate the cruise ship dock and turning basin. The government’s approval also extends the recommendation of eight work permits for the construction phase of Great Stirrup Cay and four for operations, with negotiations for a Hotel Incentive Act agreement with NCL also set to begin.
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