Cruise line industry threatens to leave Cayman behind if berthing docks are not constructed
Senior members of the cruise line industry insist they will bring fewer passengers to Grand Cayman if new berthing facilities are not constructed.
Members of the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association, visiting Cayman this week to tour passenger facilities and discuss future arrangements for cruise ships, said regional and global destinations with docking facilities were competing with Cayman and the industry would prefer to take passengers to places with docks rather than use tender boats.
Michael Ronan, vice president of Royal Caribbean Cruises and also vice chairman of the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association’s operation’s committee, said Royal Caribbean would not bring its new Oasis of the Seas super-cruise ship to Cayman if it did not have a berth.
‘We’re not calling anywhere where the ship cannot dock.’
He said with 6,000 passengers and 2,000 crew on board it would take too long to disembark.
‘Build it and we will come. Don’t build it and we will not come,’ Mr. Ronan told government, port and tourist officials at a meeting on Tuesday morning.
West Bay MLA Cline Glidden Jr., who chaired the meeting after Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush had to leave to attend other business, said the government had made a commitment to press ahead with building a dock for the ships and that it planned to ‘move forward aggressively’.
Speaking before the meeting, Mr. Glidden said the Cayman public needed to be aware that the super-sized ships would replace some of the current ships, so if they bypassed Cayman, there could be thousands fewer passengers visiting Cayman weekly.
Mr. Bush announced earlier this month that an environmental impact assessment study into plans to construct berths for cruise ships would not occur.
At yesterday’s meeting, however, Mr. Glidden said a smaller, revised study would be carried out to examine any potential environmental impact, but he did not know yet who would carry it out. He also clarified that the Port Authority would pay for this environmental impact assessment.
He said the original planned impact study would have cost $2 million, or two per cent of the overall $100 million cost of moving the cargo facility and building the berths to accommodate four of the super-sized new cruise ships.
Since the time of those estimates, the current government has abandoned the idea of moving the cargo port to a man-made island near Burger King on the waterfront.
Mr. Glidden said the revised, smaller scope of plan meant a less extensive EIA would be carried out.
The government also plans to utilise previous environmental studies of the harbour, such as the one when the Royal Watler Cruise Terminal was built.
Mr. Glidden said the revised environmental impact study would be done ‘as soon as possible’.
The original study was to have looked at the ultimate design of the facilities, the type of materials used in the construction and the alignment of the piers.
Local marine experts and conservationists raised concerns that major construction work in the harbour could affect currents and be detrimental to Seven Mile Beach, Cayman’s most popular tourist destination.
Brynley Davis of the Association for the Advancement of Cruise Tourism said the primary concern is the long-term effects on Seven Mile Beach and his association’s position has always been to champion infrastructure development that does not impact too heavily on an area.
‘A lot of damage has already been done to George Town Harbour and so it’s then a question of how do you minimise the short-term damage to that area when you do development – to do it in an environmentally responsible way.’
The question of who will pay to build the new dock remains unclear. Mr. Glidden said the government was talking with the cruise line industry about possible investment, and that three private entities had made ‘credible proposals’.
The Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association president Michele Paige pointed out that each missed call to Cayman’s port by a cruise ship due to weather conditions because a ship cannot dock means the island is not earning $300,000. ‘If you miss 50 calls, that’s $15 million,’ she said.
While the FCCA would not guarantee a minimum number of passengers it would bring to Cayman if a dock is built, Ms Paige said cruise ships took passengers where they wanted to go and it was up to Cayman to make sure it was an un-missable destination.
‘There are no guarantees in our industry,’ she said. ‘With hurricanes and the global economy, you can’t give them. Cuba will open up, but that doesn’t mean it will hit [Cayman]. You have to make sure you are a must-visit port.’
After a brief tour of the passenger facilities at Royal Watler on Tuesday morning, the association members requested the Port Authority provide them with blueprints of the port and cruise facilities in George Town, and the alternative site at Spotts, so it could come up with a layout that would improve the flow of arriving and departing passengers and make the experience more pleasant.
Amilcar ‘Mico’ Cascais, vice president of tour operations at Carnival Cruise Lines, said the signage at Royal Watler was poor and the tourist information desk was difficult to find.
‘You have the real estate, it’s just not organised properly,’ Mr. Cascais said.
Stefan Baraud, the chairman of the Port Authority Board, agreed that passengers were being left ‘dazed and confused’ and unable to figure out where they were going. But he said the Port Authority was willing to work closely with the cruise operators to improve facilities for passengers, as well as for local tour operators.