Tourism arouses strong opinions, especially when it is massive. Not surprisingly, the announcement of cruises aboard the Crystal Serenity – with ports of call on islands where the population is not much larger than the number of passengers – is causing some controversy.
Out of 3. In July, Crystal Cruises’ luxury cruise line Serenity will offer a 16-week, seven-night program to the Bahamas, with the choice of a roundtrip from Nassau or Bimini. The ship with 1,064 passengers will depart Nassau on Saturday and Bimini on Sunday with up to 900 guests on board – the number of passengers is limited by health regulations.
The Bahamas is a major cruise destination with a record 5.4 million cruise visitors in 2019. But the vast majority of cruise ships stop only in Nassau, the capital and largest urban center in the country with a population of 266,000, and to a lesser extent in Freeport, which has a population of about 27,000.
The Bahamas is relatively different from thepandemic.
The Serenity Crystal will visit many smaller islands with small populations. The ports would call at San Salvador, home to fewer than 1,000 Bahamians; Port Island, with 1,800; Bimini, with 2,000; Long Island, with just over 3,000; and Grand Exuma, with about 7,000.
The Bahamas, an archipelago of more than 700 islands dependent on tourism, has been disproportionately affected by the global health crisis: cruise ships are absent year-round, and land-based tourism has declined sharply due to restrictions on international travel.
READ MORE: Travelling during a pandemic : Eating biscuits in a barrel
Dionisio D’Aguilar, Bahamas’ Minister of Tourism and Aviation, last week welcomed the announcement that for the first time a large cruise ship will call at the country’s home port.
After a year of uncertainty, despair and doubt, we will remember this moment as a milestone. Almost a year of planning has brought us to this moment of triumph.
The small islands where the Crystal Serenity will stay are used to tourists, but not in large numbers. They usually attract private yachts and tourists from rich countries who stay in private villas or boutique hotels.
We are confident that these visits will be well organised.
Asked during the press conference if the smaller ports would be willing to handle hundreds of visitors arriving at the same time, D’Aguilar replied that one or two people might object, but he added: We are confident that these visits will be well received.
And they will undoubtedly make money, especially those who are able to tap into Crystal’s rich passenger base.
But not everyone is on board, including some resort owners on Harbor Island. Tom Sherman, owner and partner of Coral Sands Resort, told the Nassau Tribune that turning the island into a weekly stopover threatens to undermine the essence of the island’s tourism model.
The island is a landmark because we haven’t had any cruise ships yet, Sherman said. That may be good for Nassau, but not for Harbor Island. I think it was a short-sighted decision by those who made it.
Sherman told the newspaper that the lack of mass cruise tourism in the market is a key factor in building a strong base of boaters, hotel guests, renters and homeowners on Harbor Island. He also says Harbor Island’s infrastructure can’t handle the influx.
Water inflow will change these communities
There is no infrastructure to support the number of people coming in. There’s not even one doctor who’s acceptable. There are no public toilets. There are many reasons why this is not good for the island, he said.
Eric Carey, executive director of the Bahamas National Trust, the nonprofit organization that manages the country’s 32 national parks, told Eyewitness News that the nation must decide whether it wants sustainable or mass tourism in the Family Islands – the term for the hundreds of islands outside New Providence – where Nassau is located – and Grand Bahama Island, where Freeport is.
Carey told Obvious News: I had always hoped that the Family Islands would offer an authentic experience, rather than being a place where mass tourism is promoted, either by large resorts or cruise tourism. The influx of large numbers of visitors will affect and change these communities. We need to determine as a country what we want to do with these islands, Carey said.
Personally, I don’t think that will be the case. I think we need to research and encourage the type of visitor who spends the most and is able to enjoy an authentic experience offered by Bahamians and their property.
Similar to the Mona Lisa spray
Carey confirmed that some of them would welcome new visitors: It’s clear that the islands are in bad shape and people are looking for economic opportunities. I have heard the reactions of those who are looking forward to it and those who are not. I think we should always look at (our) areas and determine what kind of tourism use or development is compatible with a particular island or community.
At a press conference announcing Crystal Cruises, acting CEO Jack Anderson said the company’s plans would provide much-needed economic support to Bahamian businesses which, like other tourism-dependent destinations, have been hit hard by the pandemic.
But an operator of a resort on Harbor Island, who spoke anonymously to the Nassau Tribune, said: This is a disaster for the Family Island product. We are not a cruise destination. The only advantage is that it comes at a time when there is little to do on the island and the locals have the opportunity to earn some extra money.
The resort operator called the cruise program a desperate and incredibly damaging idea for tourism on the island, saying the measure was tantamount to spraying the Mona Lisa.
With cruise lines still not allowed to dock in U.S. ports and multi-country itineraries hampered by lingering travel restrictions, Crystal Anderson believes itineraries that only go to the Bahamas make a lot of sense. One can only guess whether the program will continue after the travel restrictions in the United States and the rest of the world.
We know one thing for sure, Anderson said. These Bahamas cruises sell out very quickly and this will probably encourage us to extend.
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