Cabinet Minister Cline Glidden has said that recent fee increases for moving passengers between cruise ships and port in Grand Cayman could be delayed until 2014, pending the outcome of meetings scheduled for next week between Cayman Islands government officials and Florida-based cruise tourism interests.
The three-phase, 75-cent per passenger increase, which started with 25 cents on 1 January, has threatened to disrupt George Town’s cruise ship traffic as protests from both Carnival Cruise Lines and the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association continue to mount.
Mr. Glidden, appointed on 19 December to oversee the government ministries of tourism and development in the wake of a major political shake-up that saw the ouster of former Premier McKeeva Bush, said Monday that he would meet “one of our larger partners”, the cruise association and cruise lines on Thursday, 17 January.
“I will be there and we will be talking about facilities, not only berthing, but enhancements such as shading and other amenities, and the increases by the tender company, how that might affect them. While [Caribbean Marine] is proposing 75 cents, that is open to negotiations.
“We already started with 25 cents on 1 January and they may be willing to defer the rest of the increase to 1 January, 2014,” Mr. Glidden said.
Meanwhile, Caribbean Marine Services still hopes to speak to both Carnival Cruise Lines and the cruise association.
“We are willing to negotiate, but nobody from Carnival has spoken to us officially. We just can’t handle the expenses anymore,” said Adrian Briggs, operator of Caribbean Marine Services, the sole tender operator in George Town harbour.
For decades, the company has been shuttling tourists back and forth between moored vessels and the downtown port due to the absence of berthing facilities large enough to allow the passenger ships to dock in Grand Cayman.
“One of the reasons we need an increase is because passenger numbers have been going down and expenses keep going up. Nobody is talking to us,” he said, frustrated.
Cruise passenger arrivals to Grand Cayman have been steadily decreasing in recent years, falling from roughly 1.92 million in 2006 to about 1.4 million in 2011, according to figures provided by the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism. Complete year-end arrival numbers for 2012 have not yet been released.
Mr. Briggs said that promised increases in arrivals by some cruise lines have never materialised, while local government officials for years have discussed proposals to build adequate berthing facilities in George Town only to see nothing develop.
“And no one ever approached us. Imagine if you had a business, and they keep threatening to put in a pier. We don’t know whether to upgrade our fleet, to reduce it, what sort of maintenance we might need, where we might dock. We don’t know what to do. If berthing goes in, it could be the end of our business,” Mr. Briggs said, lamenting the lack of consultation.
Only in late December did government officials finally contact the company, and while Mr. Glidden acknowledged it was “at the 11th hour”, and only a matter of days before the fee rises, a 19 December conference call with the FCCA and a subsequent meeting with Mr. Briggs had led to the possibility of compromise.
“I told Caribbean Marine that we appreciated their willingness to compromise, but they also had to talk to their partners, to inform them,” Mr. Glidden said. “We hope for some level of relief and for negotiation.”
As of press time, Carnival Cruise Lines had not responded to enquiries regarding contact with Mr. Briggs, but had acknowledged the queries.
Mr. Glidden did not soon foresee a move toward port development, explaining that new rules from the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office made tendering the project complex.
“The government has spoken to the cruise lines, but any procurement has to be done in line with ‘best practices’. We have economic advisers from the UK and we are only just now in receipt of their initial plans about what is accepted as ‘best practices’ and what we need to assess any proposals.
“We don’t want to start something and then have the UK say, ‘no, these are not best practices for procurement’,” Mr. Glidden said.
Additional complexities arise when a project is structured as a public-private partnership, he said. Government must develop its own architecture and engineering plans, then tender them through the Central Tenders Committee.
“You even face the question of who owns the plans,” he said. “You may be asking someone to come forward with plans for design and finance, while others could have something totally different and that could have tremendous financial implications.
“The UK wants to compare apples with apples. So this has been a little different and we have not been able to design and build with best practices. We are still trying to determine what that would be,” Mr. Glidden said.