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Bahamian tour operators sqeezed by major cruise lines

NEIL HARTNELL  Oct 29, 2009

Bahamian-owned tour and excursion providers are increasingly being squeezed by the major cruise lines, industry sources revealed, as more are dropped from the ships' itineraries.

Sources say Atlantis's decision to cancel the ground transportation contract for its employees with the Bahamas Taxi Union was just "the tip of the iceberg" when it came to the increasing squeeze being felt by Bahamian-owned businesses in the tour and excursion provider sector.

Industry sources also say that Carnival has dropped Blackbeard's Cay from its list of tours for passengers, suggesting the decision was taken, at least in part, because the cruise line was unhappy that the company was still marketing itself via the Internet, rather than solely through Carnival.

It was suggested that in most other countries, such a tactic would be viewed as a restraint on trade and anti-competitive, invoking antitrust-related lawsuits and actions.

Dolphin Encounters and Sunshine Cruises have also seen major cruise lines and ships cancel tour contracts with them in the past year, although executives in the tour operator industry declined to comment because of the sensitivity of the situation.

However, it is understood that Bahamian-owned tour operators and excursion providers, which contribute substantially to the economy through the employment they provide, plus purchases and various government taxes and fees, are increasingly questioning what benefits the revised Cruise Overnight Incentive Act - passed by Parliament this year - has brought them.

And concerns remain as to whether they are being included in the process of negotiations with the cruise lines by the Government and Ministry of Tourism, industry sources said.

Meanwhile Bahamas Taxi Union officials, including president Leon Griffin, are due to meet with Atlantis executives and government ministers before the week is out over the resort's decision to cancel the employee ground transportation contract.

One source yesterday suggested the contract's termination would be a devastating blow for the Bahamas Taxi Union, as it represented its "bread and butter" and majority of its business at a time when other revenue sources had dried up.

Mr Griffin had confirmed on Wednesday that Atlantis and Kerzner International had "given notice" that they planned to terminate the ground transportation contract for ferrying Atlantis employees to and from the island.

However, he said the Bahamas Taxi Union was still in talks with Atlantis executives on the issue, and the contract termination was not a 'done deal'.

Reluctant to comment due to the fact that there was a possibility that the Bahamas Taxi Union might retain its contract with Atlantis, Mr Griffin said: "We are still talking about it with Atlantis, even though they have given notice about it."

Although he did not confirm the November 1, 2009, Mr Griffin added: "They [Kerzner International] did give notice about it. I can't go any further because there's still hope, and we're still talking about the contract."

Although not commenting on the reasons given by Atlantis for its move to terminate the ground transportation contract, Mr Griffin said: "It would not be devastating, but it would be a very hard blow, and we would have to do some readjustments and all kinds of things."

Bahamian tour operators sqeezed by major cruise lines
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