The cruise industry made positive waves in mid-March when luxury cruise brand Crystal Cruises announced it was launching a series of seven-night round-trip “Bahamas Escapes” voyages from Nassau. The line’s Crystal Serenity ship would homeport in Nassau, and visit Bimini and four other Bahama Islands, avoiding any U.S. ports.
The response from the pubic was immense and immediate. Within the first 24 hours of opening reservations “nearly 4,000 enthusiastic travelers reserved staterooms or suites on at least one of the seven-night voyages that cruise from Nassau or Bimini roundtrip booking more than 25 percent
of the 16 voyages combined availability,” reported Crystal.
Four days later, Royal Caribbean announced the relaunch of its Caribbean cruise service would commence in June, also from a home port in Nassau. RCL’s summer lineup features the Adventure of the Seas with visits to Nassau, Grand Bahama, Perfect Day at CocoCay (a Royal Caribbean private island destination), and Cozumel, Mexico.
The reason the cruise lines could take such a bold step to restart cruising on the doorstep of the world’s largest cruise market is that the Nassau Cruise Port is managed by the world’s largest cruise port operator, Global Ports Holding Plc (GPH), in a contract that it won in August 2019.
NCP began operations in October 2019 as part of a consortium comprising Global Ports Holding Plc, the Bahamas Investment Fund (“BIF”) and the Yes Foundation.
The 25-year port operation and lease agreement that GPH signed with the Government of the Bahamas covers NCP’s Prince George Wharf and related areas at Nassau cruise port.
Under the terms of the agreement, NCP is to invest up to $250 million in expanding the capacity of the port, and transform the cruise port experience for both the passengers and the local population, the company said at the signing.
The project will also see the building of a new terminal building; the creation of an event and entertainment area; investment into improving the current retail facilities; and the design and construction of new food and beverage facilities, GPH announced.
Global Ports Holding Plc is eager to take its role as a critical partner in the restart of cruise tourism in the region.
“We are extremely excited to participate in the relaunch of cruising in the region,” exclaimed Mike Maura, Jr., Global Ports Holding Regional Director, Americas, and CEO of Nassau Cruise Port Ltd.
“While home port service may not have been a part of the short-term strategy for Nassau one year ago, we are more than willing to speed up our plans and adapt to ensure the survival of the industry.
“This opportunity could not have been achieved without a strong commitment to the trilateral partnership between key contributors to this process – Nassau Cruise Port Ltd., the Government of The Bahamas, and our cruise line partners,” he continued.
Maura explains how each entity works together to ensure that everyone has what they need to make this work.
“NCP collaborates with the government to contribute to policy and regulation development to ensure that the best interests of our communities are maintained; the government collaborates with the cruise lines on health protocols, contractual matters, and other details to ensure a mutually beneficial partnership exists on an ongoing basis; and NCP works with the cruise lines to ensure that their operational, passenger experience, and other needs are met at the port. It takes a lot of teamwork, coordination, listening, and flexibility to achieve such effective collaboration. We appreciate the constant support of all our partners in making this kind of progress possible.”
Challenges and rewards
Maura made it clear that the partners understand the challenge of turning Prince George Wharf into a home port, but also the rewards: “At its peak, vessels that homeport here will potentially bring thousands of new passengers to Nassau annually, which is not only significant for us but for other local industry players as well. This opening will generate an extensive amount of economic activity for hotels, tour operators, taxis, and other tourism stakeholders as this area of our business grows.”
In Nassau, home port operations will begin amid ongoing construction as general contractor, ENKA, completes the marine works and launches plans to start the upland development.
“NCP has been accredited with a Safe Travels certification which was awarded by the World Tourism and Travel Council (WTTC) in August 2020. Additionally, as part of Global Ports Holding network of ports, NCP is applying the GPH health and safety protocols for operations. We are amending our operational plans in response to this very exciting opportunity so that passengers remain unaffected by the evolution of our project. Every aspect of their experience is being planned and reviewed to ensure the success of this venture,” explained Maura.
Colin Murphy, GPH Head of Business Development, Americas, also discussed the potential future of home port operations in both Nassau and Antigua, which GPH has also operated since 2019.
“The ability to give cruise lines the option to homeport presents a massive opportunity for Nassau and Antigua, making partnerships with our ports even more critical in influencing the regional success of the industry. Fortunately, GPH has an extensive experience in home port operations in many of its Mediterranean ports. We are sharing the knowledge that these ports have with our Caribbean teams to assist with developing port-specific home port protocols.”
Murphy noted that GPH has also received interest from several other cruise lines about providing home port services in Nassau and Antigua recently.
“Being able to offer this benefit to them will bring an extensive boost to the profiles of each of these countries as major tourism players, which has always been one of our overarching goals as a partner and supporter of their local tourism industries. As our discussions with the cruise lines advance, we continue to pursue opportunities to expand our reach in the Americas to bring more business and opportunities to other communities in the region.”
Nassau is one of the most popular cruise destinations in the world, attracting 3.7 million passengers per year.
According to the NCP website, as Nassau’s cruise gateway the project involves the redevelopment of the port and local town of Nassau. NCP will work to enhance the passenger experience and provide additional business opportunities for the local population. In addition to building of a new terminal building and entertainment area, the project will integrate the port into Bay Street and downtown Nassau, with the expectation that it will act as a catalyst for the wider development of the downtown area. The construction phase was originally expected to start in Q4 2019 to be completed within 24 months.
GPH operates 19 ports in 13 countries and continues to grow steadily. Its management contracts with Antigua Cruise Port and Nassau Cruise Port in 2019 mark the Group’s expansion into the Americas.