“Grand Bahama is OPEN for business and rolling out the ‘red carpet’ to receive guests!” This was the resounding message heralded by the island’s key tourism stakeholders, at the 24th annual Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA), conference and tradeshow, in Merida, Mexico last week.

A four member team from Grand Bahama attended the FCCA event as part of a renewed alliance between The Grand Bahama Port Authority, Limited (GBPA), Freeport Harbour Company and The Bahamas’ Ministry of Tourism (MOT) offices (both Grand Bahama and New Providence), to reintroduce the island’s tourism product to cruise lines, and address some of the challenges facing the destination.

“FCCA is a strategic event on GBPA’s promotions calendar; one done in collaboration with our partners at the Freeport Harbour Company, and the Ministry of Tourism,” explained Derek Newbold, Senior Manager of Business Development for GBPA and Invest Grand Bahama (IGB).

“We had very insightful and productive meetings with several cruise lines, who shared some interesting statistics. For example, Carnival Cruise Lines revealed that of the 25-30 percent of passengers purchasing tours for Grand Bahama, a high percentage of them are enjoying favorable tour experiences with local operators. We found this to be very encouraging, as the numbers clearly validate the island’s ability to produce quality experiences for our guests. However, notwithstanding a satisfactory rating on tours engaged, the destination’s overall ranking remains subpar, and requires immediate attention. In years past, there was a certain level of ambiguity when it came to determining how the lines computed destination rankings; we now know exactly what we are being rated on and the industry benchmarks for each category. This provides us with a tremendous opportunity to provide laser focus on those areas where we are under performing as a destination,” Newbold added.

The FCCA conference is the industry’s banner event annually. Specialized forums addressing every aspect of the cruise industry, provides attendees with direct insight from FCCA’s 19 Member Cruise Lines who decide where ships call, what is sold and used onboard, and how to invest in destinations and infrastructure.

GBPA’s President, Ian Rolle notes that a ‘Cruise Excellence Training’ scheduled for November, will focus on building tour capacity as well as diversity. “Grand Bahama needs to increase its shore excursions capacity to accommodate more passengers from vessels currently calling on Grand Bahama.” Rolle stated. “The “Cruise Excellence training” as presented by Aquila – (exclusive training partners of the FCCA), will introduce new tour and product concepts tailored uniquely to our destination, which can be become business opportunities for existing or aspiring entrepreneurs,” continued Rolle. As a destination located only a stone’s throw away from major South Florida home ports, we have a tremendous opportunity to build our tourism product, rebrand our destination and gain market share within the cruise sector; we must capitalize on this opportunity today.”

The Caribbean has long been the number one region in the cruise industry, and despite the recent hurricanes, it remains a very resilient and competitive market. Neighboring jurisdictions, which suffered significant damages during hurricanes Irma and Maria, including Antigua & Barbuda, Tortola, St. Martin , Puerto Rico, US and British Virgin Isles, did not miss the opportunity to showcase their respective destinations and remind cruise lines that their ports are, or soon to become, operational once again. Also commenting on the significance of a unified effort to showcase Grand Bahama at this year’s event was Director for the Ministry of Tourism on Grand Bahama Island, Betty Bethel, who stated, “the FCCA conference and trade show has proven very productive and fruitful for Grand Bahama as we’ve gleaned a better appreciation of the expectation of the cruise visitor. We now know without a doubt that our product offering needs to be more diverse and more heritage and culturally oriented.”

“The Hon. Minister of Tourism, Dionisio D’Aguilar has said that one of the MOT’s goals is to get more passengers off the cruise ships and increase spend on the destination. The Ministry of Tourism is therefore especially pleased to partner with the Grand Bahama Port Authority in the upcoming Product Development training, which will reinforce and equip tours and attractions entrepreneurs with the skills and techniques required to compete in the competitive cruise environment, while making our destination a premier port of call.” Bethel added.

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