Representatives from the major cruise lines that visit the Territory were in the Territory last week and participated in a town hall meeting on 2 October that was geared as sharing information on the current trends in the cruise industry and how the BVI’s cruise business can be improved.
The cruise representatives from Norwegian, Disney, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival sat in the company of Premier Hon. Andrew Fahie and President of the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) Michele Paige to discuss with local stakeholders at a town hall meeting that was held at the Community College Auditorium.
It was a lively exchange of information with persons in the tour/taxi industry as well as merchants seeking clarity on the current state and future projections for the industry.
The most pressing feedback about the industry was delivered by the FCCA President as she noted that the cruise passengers could be spending more in the Territory. In fact, Paige used statistics to make that point. She noted: “In 2012 passengers spent $66.50 each, in 2015 $69.43, in 2018 $78.11 dollars a day. Which is good, but when you consider a destination like St Thomas…the cruise passengers spend almost $200.”
Paige noted that with a strategic approach, the Territory can make more from cruise calls, and even convert the day-trippers to overnight guests. In hinting at how this can be done the FCCA President said: “An average ship calling once produces $600,000 in revenue to the British Virgin Islands … Even though the ship is in port for eight hours, the passengers are only spending eight hours off the ship – how can you showcase to them all the wonderful things that they can do when they are off the ship? Showcasing to them not only everything that they can do in those eight hours, but they couldn’t do and want to come back. They can come back and stay for long periods in the hotels.”
She noted that the likelihood of cruise passengers returning for vacation in the Territory is very high: “Cruise passengers are looking at where they’re going to go on their next vacation while they’re on vacation. You need to put in their head that there is no better place than the British Virgin Islands,” she further suggested.
Meanwhile, Paige noted that the BVI has been doing well with the guest experience: “The good news is that on an average ship, 97 percent of those passengers went ashore. That’s really good because there are some destinations where it’s a lot lower than that. That means that only three percent of the people chose to stay on the ship,” the FCCA President pointed out.
Almost all of the cruise executives asked the stakeholders to include more culture and heritage in their offerings. According to Paige – sharing more of the BVI story would make the guest experience even better: “What’s important is that you tell your story. No matter what it is that you have to sell. What it is the attractions. Whether it’s the history, the culture – you need to impart to every single person that you meet why they came here. What’s special about the British Virgin Islands, about the people, about the customs,” she noted.
Similar to other industry speakers the FCCA President also lauded the recovery work that was done to get the Territory’s tourism product back on track following the 2017 devastations. However, she announced that more can still be done: “You have done a phenomenal job at having a much better product than you have had after the hurricane, but you have all of the ability to be a world class destination, not just in the Caribbean. I am talking about in the world. A world class destination, a demand destination that people say that this is something that I have to go to. Why? – because you are special and what you have to offer is something special and the only way that we are going to get there is by having everybody working together to showcase what sets you apart.”
Tour operator Sam Henry pleaded with Carnival Cruise lines which had stopped visiting the Territory. The situation with Carnival stemmed from as far back as 2013 when it was disclosed that the Government was going to sign berthing agreements with Norwegian and Disney cruise lines. Carnival agreed to return to the Territory in 2017 but was doing so on a minimal basis. However, last year it was announced that the company indicated that it would return in full.
In light of this Henry took the opportunity to address the panel which included Carlos Estrada, Director, Commercial Home Port Operations at Carnival Cruise Lines to ask that the company increase their calls.
Henry said: “Carnival – we want to see you back. Nothing taken away from the other two cruise liners, but we love Carnival, so we want you back more. This is a home run for you guys, so come on back some more. Work whatever you have to work out with the rest – come back home. This is your home no matter where you go – BVI is your home,” Henry stated.
While the Premier did not speak directly to the matter of Carnival’s exit from the Territory, he did make a comment about a relationship that had to be mended and hinted that Carnival could attest to this.
The Premier veered away from inferring that the damaged relationship referenced had to do with Carnival. Instead, Hon. Fahie said: “We had to rebuild some relationships, when I said this, I say it because I know I could get back up on the stage from Carnival. There was a relationship that we had to mend and my good friend (nodding to Michele Paige FCCA President) has helped me to mend it to the point where we have brought back Carnival sunrise,” he said.
While speaking more on the matter Hon. Fahie further stated: “There were some relationships that had to be mended so I actually was out to some of these meetings…on a mission of mercy to start and press a reset button…The reset button has been pressed, that is why we state that we were able to increase the number of calls in terms of our passengers.”
“I want to thank all those on the stage tonight, none more than the other; but especially Carnival cruise line for allowing us to do a reset button and come and be very helpful to the BVI,” Hon. Fahie added.