Caribbean Islands Looking To Boost Cruise Fees

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If a recently-floated idea takes root, future cruises to islands in the Caribbean could wind up costing you more. Could long-simmering tensions between the cruise lines and some of their most popular ports of call be heating up?

How The Islands Might Get More Money From Cruisers

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An editorial column penned by Robert MacLellan, managing director of MacEllan & Associates and published in numerous Caribbean media outlets revisited the idea that by presenting a united front, the various islands could essentially force cruise lines to pay higher port fees. “When individual countries try to increase port taxes,” he wrote, “they are threatened with being dropped from cruise itineraries and can be picked off one by one by the powerful cruise lines.”

In fact, MacLellan, who has worked in the hospitality industry for over 30 years, advocates getting more money from cruisers in order to lessen the taxes and fees levied upon “stay-over” travelers who arrive by air. “Stay-over travelers,” he argues, “spend very much more than cruise ship passengers and generate considerably more local employment than today’s cruise ship business model, which is now highly [exploitative] of Caribbean countries.”

Some, however, think MacLellan’s idea is easier said (or written) than done. Among those? Bahamian Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar. The Minister told the Nassau Guardian that while the idea of consolidated negotiation is attractive, it also has its pitfalls. “It has been historically difficult to create a unified body with which to negotiate with the [cruise lines],” he admitted.

Despite this, the Minister says that “there’s a general belief that the cruise companies pay very little or don’t pay an appropriate amount to bring their passengers to many countries in the Caribbean.”

Big Changes Ahead In The Region

Atlantis Resort Nassau
The Atlantis resort in Nassau, Bahamas.

Currently, the range of the “head tax” collected by islands in the region ranges from $1.50 to $18 per passenger, with The Bahamas at the high-end of that scale. Of course, all of this comes as the entire Caribbean region is facing shifting paradigms. Cruise lines are investing more and more in private islands, which some in the area fear will have a negative economic impact on the various ports of call in the area.

READ MORE: Bahamas Cuts Of Cruise Line Cash Flow

Complaints about the lack of money being spent by cruisers in the Bahamas are not new. Last October, D’Aguilar cited that very issue in explaining why the island had stopped paying incentives for the cruise lines to visit. “They make a lot of money,” he said at the time. “Why are we paying them to bring cruise passengers to our port, and then we’re finding that some of them are not coming off? So why are we giving incentives for people to come to Nassau and sit on the boat, eat their food and not spend money in our country?”

Meanwhile, Nassau is hoping that the currently-in-development overhaul of the port will help turn the tide where visitor dissatisfaction is concerned. But could the $250 million refurbishment also lead to the local government deciding the new-and-improved port is worthy of an increase in the head tax? Or will the transformation be enough to renew interest in the port and cause cruise ship passengers to increase the amount of money they’re spending during visits?

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