The decision by the premier not to extend the deal with developers GLF over the construction of the cruise berthing facilities in George Town is putting the industry in further jeopardy, according to the former tourism minister and those working in the industry.
With no agreement in place now with any team, the possibility of another developer being ready to go in six weeks, as GLF construction had said it could, is “nonsensical”, Charles Clifford said. Having had the experience of negotiations with a potential developer, he said the process takes time. He said he believes that there is something behind the move that the people of the Cayman Islands are so far not privy to.
Clifford said that the decision by McKeeva Bush to end the agreement with the latest cruise berth developers GLF means that government is essentially starting over. Pointing out the complexities in the process, Clifford said it was madness to expect that any other developer could move ahead more quickly.
“It simply can’t be done in less than six weeks so I don’t know what he is hoping to achieve,” the former minister said about the premier. “Obviously there is something going on here that we are not yet privy to and I fear there will be a number of irregularities.”
He said that, given the process and the things that would need to be done if a new developer was to come on board now, there is no way the project could move forward in such a short time frame without rules being broken.
It would not be possible, Clifford explained, for a new development team to simply pick up where GLF have left off as they would have to cost out the designs themselves and ensure they were confident that they could reproduce the project, and that alone would take several months, the previous tourism minister said. He noted that it was likely a new team would also have different ideas and a different approach, which would obviously add more time.
Clifford warned that the tourism industry was facing a summer of reduced cruise passenger arrivals as the lines changed their itenaries to accommodate the new mega ships in the region, which will not be coming to Cayman without piers.
“The industry faces a 25% decline for this summer in passenger arrivals,” he added, warning that this delay would mean there is certainly to be no relief for the industry in the summer 2012 and it’s now unlikely the facilities will be even ready for the summer of 2013.
With the mounting troubles already among operators fighting for cruise business and bottom lines being hit in George Town stores, the impact of a decline in passengers this summer will be hard.
Although none of the official associations contacted by CNS have responded to our questions about the premier’s decision, a number of local business owners have revealed their genuine concerns. Tour operators and taxi drivers as well as business owners connected to retail and restaurants have expressed their fears that the cruise facilities may never be developed as the project continues to be bogged down in what many believe to be political priorities instead of business ones.
Clifford also warned that the decision by the premier to pull out of the deal with GLF may cause delays not just because of the need to find new partners but because of possible legal troubles.
Although the framework agreement had come to an end, if GLF had fulfilled the requirements of that deal they would have a genuine expectation to either extend it or move to the master agreement as per the request made by CEO, Francesco Senis in his letter to the premier. Given the current situation and the amount of money spent by the firm so far on the project, which is understood to be in excess of $1million, the firm may seek an injunction to prevent the government from moving ahead with any other developer until any claim they make is addressed.
If government is drawn into another difficult civil courtroom battle, not only will that place the cruise tourism business in real jeopardy, it could also hit the public purse hard.
In a press statement released on Tuesday evening Clifford points to possible solutions, provided there are no legal problems, now government appears to be back at square one.
He tells government to formally invite the cruise lines back to the table and ensure their participation. With new negotiations and a demonstration of some stability with the project, he said, government may be able to convince the two main cruise lines, Carnival and Royal Caribbean, to prop up arrival numbers via increased port calls from their various sub-brands, which still operate smaller ships on the western Caribbean itinerary.
“Because cruise lines plan and begin to book their itineraries 18-24 months in advance of a cruise, the UDP Government must act now if we are to have a chance of saving our 2012 cruise tourism winter season,” he added.