Thursday, April 1, 2021
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Eleuthera’s Chamber of Commerce president has warned the Ministry of Tourism that Harbour Island “resoundingly” believes Crystal Cruises is “the wrong model” for its destination.
Thomas Sands, in an e-mailed communication to Janet Johnson, head of the Tourism Development Corporation, said: “Further to your communication requesting feedback from the Eleuthera Chamber of Commerce related to the proposed Crystal Cruises stopover to Harbour Island, please note that our membership across Eleuthera (from north to south, resident and non-resident) have voiced their concern regarding the proposal.
“The resounding sentiment is that this is the wrong model for the Harbour Island destination. Specifically, there are logistical concerns (related to how to safely get passengers on and off the ship, particularly during rough seas); infrastructural concerns (given the likely increase in street traffic, increase in garbage, etc); and concerns that the economic benefit would not compensate for the negative overall impact to the island and its current clientele.”
Mr Sands indicated that Crystal Cruises would likely receive a warmer reception from mainland Eleuthera, especially in the south, where the economic impact produced by the weekly visit of its 900 passengers is more urgently needed.
“It should be noted that members are not opposed to cruise visitors. Suggestions from persons in both north and south Eleuthera indicate that there is strong support for having the cruise line explore south Eleuthera as a destination. Members note that south Eleuthera communities have a long history of welcoming cruise passengers and would be better suited for the guests,” he added.
“In summary, Eleuthera is happy for opportunities that will grow its economy but it wants to ensure that the nuances of its differing communities are considered. We would be open to further dialogue and trust that a workable solution will be reached in the not too distant future.”
Mr Sands’ formal response differs in tone from the public statement put out as a press release, which was not sent to this newspaper, yet has been obtained. This version, more conciliatory, states: “The idea of some level of cruise [tourism] into the Family Islands, when properly planned and executed, can be economically beneficial.
“With that said, infrastructure in the Family Islands is limited and even though there have been improvements it is not where it should be. Beyond the civil infrastructure, the tourism infrastructure is also poor given comparable tourist destinations. With that being said, we are of the view that Harbour Island is currently not in a position to cater to 900 cruise passengers all at once.
“We invite a broader conversation, which would incorporate mainland Eleuthera, Spanish Wells and Harbour Island. We understand that the rule in cruise is that not all passengers will want to have the same experience. Planning with the cruise line, if it chooses to engage, could lead to defining smaller groups and experiences dispersed across the multiple locations,” Mr Sands added.
“If this is going to succeed, the planning, programming and execution must bring together all stakeholders. Additionally, there must be full transparency in the process and an understanding that communities across Eleuthera vary, have different needs, and require thoughtful consideration.”
Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, recently admitted that Harbour Island’s tourism industry “has made a compelling case” for why it should not become a cruise destination.
He told Tribune Business he will now “convey that message” to Crystal Cruises and “explore the possibilities” of it switching to an alternative destination on its weekly seven-night Bahamas cruises that are scheduled to begin on July 3 and last for four months through to October.
The minister acknowledged that Harbour Island has established a destination brand that is the “antithesis” of mass market cruise tourism, focusing on high-end visitors seeking a quiet getaway in boutique resorts and vacation rentals, and conceded there were valid concerns this could be “significantly negatively impacted” by Crystal Cruises plans.
Pledging to “engineer a good outcome for all sides”, Mr D’Aguilar told this newspaper: “The hotel owners and operators have expressed their view that Harbour Island really is not a preferred destination for cruise ship passengers, and they have made a very strong and compelling case as to why.
“In many respects it relates to branding. They have branded their destination as the antithesis for cruising, and instead as a destination that caters to high-end, low density travellers looking for that unique and boutique experience. They feel that by introducing a cruise component on to the island that will significantly negatively impact their branding.
“They make a compelling case. We’re obviously going to go back to the cruise company to at least convey that message and explore the possibilities of using another destination. No decision has been made yet. The Ministry of Tourism will convey that messaging on to Crystal Cruises. They are the ones intending to stop there.”