A top tourism official yesterday defended the government’s decision to lease nearly half a dozen cays that have been transformed into private island paradises by major cruise liners.
Responding to recent concerns expressed by some Abaco residents, who are unhappy that a cay just off that island is being leased to Disney Cruises, Director General of Tourism Vernice Walkine stressed that despite the popular belief that cays are being sold for a one-time profit, the leasing of the private islands benefits the nation’s number one industry significantly.
“For quite some time now we’ve had cruise lines that have in fact leased private cays within the islands of The Bahamas,” she said. “So that’s not a new phenomenon to us.
“The reason that they do that and why that serves to our advantage is quite frankly because a cruise line that has the rights to use a private cay in The Bahamas, that they can develop for their passengers, actually supports Bahamas-only cruises.”
According to Walkine, once the cruise line invests millions of dollars into transforming an island, they are more inclined to make The Bahamas their only destination.
She added that in most cases those ships, which carry hundreds of passengers, stop at a port in New Providence or Grand Bahama before visiting the private island.
“Seventy percent of the cruises that call on The Bahamas are Bahamas-only cruises,” said Walkine. “No other destination has that kind of loyalty on the part of the cruise lines because they don’t have the proximity advantage that we have.
“What that means is that they give us their loyalty, because they have an investment in the ground so they are going to use it and maximize that. So that’s really the actual benefit of those cruise lines having access to private islands in The Bahamas.”
Tourism officials say there are currently five cays being leased by major cruise lines: Castaway Cay, which is operated by the Disney Cruise Line; Coco Cay, which is operated by Royal Caribbean International; Great Stirrup Cay, which is operated by Norwegian Cruise Line; Half Moon Cay, which is operated by Holland America Line and Carnival Cruise Line; and Princess Cay, which is operated by Princess Cruises.
Norwegian Cruise Line announced last week that its private island, Great Stirrup Cay will receive a $20 million renovation to be completed by the end of 2011.
The renovations, which will be completed in two phases, will include the excavation and formation of a new entrance channel for tenders, and improvements to the marina basin and arrival area with a welcome pavilion that will be the site for new tender landings and docks.
In addition, the island will feature the private beach front cabanas added to other cruise line private islands in recent years.
The most recent statistics reveal that cruise arrivals between January 2009 and October 2009 peaked with 2,601,321 visitors arriving at Bahamian shores.