With word that the next phase of redeveloping the cruise ship dock at King’s Wharf will prepare for even bigger mega cruise ships with four gangways, the proponents behind the 2019 Green Paper on Transport asks a key question.

Given the financial breakdown, the report states outright that the outstanding question remains: “Is Bermuda willing to tip the scale in favour of cruise ship passenger arrivals over air visitors?

“If the answer is yes, a major planning project is required to meet the needs of almost 550,000 passengers annually.”

And we all know the challenges of meeting the current demand during the annual cruise ship season for Bermuda’s public bus service in particular.

According to the report, the projected number of cruise ship passengers landing on our shores during the 2019 season is expected to reach 545,000, generating nearly $130 in passenger and crew spending, with another $36 million in taxes.

On top of that, there’s another $7.9 million expected to be paid by way of the new Visitor Fee introduced this season introduced by the Bermuda Tourism Authority.

With another $10 million in cruise ship disbursements and conservative estimates on expenses, in all, Bermuda’s cruise ship industry is expected to generate “a total economic impact” on the island’s economy to the tune of $178.7 million this year.

In terms of dollars and cents, despite Bermuda’s infrastructure challenges, given the financial breakdown, in light of the most recent tourism figures with air arrivals still down, the question remains – what’s the plan moving forward to boost air arrivals?

And are cruise ship passengers worth more in terms of numbers? Ask hoteliers and the answer would be an affirmative “no”.

The report also noted that “the Cruise Lines are willing to financially partner with Bermuda to help develop or redevelop the
necessary port and transportation infrastructure required to meet present and future demand”.

Highlighting the background leading up to today’s scenario, the report also noted that the 2018 cruise ship strategy “included a strong focus on increasing cruise ship passenger spending and attracting a mixture of smaller, premium cruise ships for Hamilton and the Town of St George between March and November”.

“It also sought to extend the cruise ship season either side of the April to October period,” the report said.

Cruise ship passenger arrivals saw a “significant increase” since 1999, “when 195,000 passengers visited Bermuda verses 484,000 in 2018”.

“This represents an increase of 289,339 in the last 20 years. This is significant because the 2012 National Tourism Plan called for an increase in cruise passenger arrivals to 428,000 by the year 2022.

“This means, that in 2018, which was five years before the goal date, Bermuda hosted approximately 56,000 more passengers than originally targeted in the 2012 plan.”

This year the cruise passenger estimate “will rise to 545,000 passengers”, the report added.

“The Ministry of Transport recognized that 2018 was a ‘tipping point’ year for cruise ship activity, especially with six cruise ships in port on October 31, 2018.

“Cruise passenger tax revenue increased from $22.2M in 2017 to $24.1M in 2018. Cruise passenger spending in Bermuda rose from $47.9M in 2017 to $110M in 2018.

“This increase is attributed to an increase of 16 percent more cruise ship passengers in 2018 over 2017.”

On the strategy moving forward, meetings were held in Miami, “with management teams of the three major cruise lines that call on Bermuda on 1 & 2 March 2018 – Royal Caribbean Cruises International Limited (RCCL), Norwegian Cruise Lines Limited (NCL) and Carnival Corporation LLC (CCL)”.

“Together with their affiliated brands, these three cruise lines brought 92 percent of the 171 scheduled cruise ship calls (484,000 cruise ship passengers) to Bermuda in 2018,” the report said.

A general consensus was derived from these interviews on the main issues, which include:

  1. There is a need to ensure cruise visitors experience the Town of St George and the City of Hamilton. This relieves the transport bottleneck experienced in Dockyard and distributes the visitor spend more evenly across the island
  2. Ships are getting bigger not smaller, and Bermuda should consider further pier enlargements and upgrades to dock infrastructure to accommodate the newer cruise ships
  3. There is a need to widen and deepen Town Cut and Two Rock Passage to accommodate larger cruise ships for regular service to St. George and Hamilton, which will allow cruise lines the opportunity to offer 2-port itineraries
  4. There is a need to upgrade and expand King’s Wharf to reduce the pressure on Heritage Wharf
  5. To avoid major congestion of passengers arriving at the same time, i.e. two or three ships berthing within minutes of each other, there is a need to stagger arrival times more efficiently
  6. There is a need for Marine & Ports to have reliable tugs
  7. See Section 10.4 with regards to cruise line feedback regarding visitor transportation issues

Now when it comes to creating “a five-year plan to partner with cruise lines for further pier enlargements of King’s Wharf,
Hamilton 5/6 Dock and Penno’s Wharf to accommodate the larger ships, the report recommends consideration of :

  • A new cruise port development at Sallyport (behind Snorkel Park in the West End) with a large Water General Transportation Area, where transport will be primarily by water instead of land, out of the West End to St George’s, Hamilton and Flatts Village
  • A new cruise port development at Murray’s Anchorage (Ferry Reach Area in the East End)
  • Widen and deepen Town Cut, St George’s, to attract a regular cruise ship for the Old Towne
  • Modify and deepen Two Rock Passage in Hamilton Harbour to attract a Tier 2 (post panama ships) regular cruise ship for the City of Hamilton, with more focus on:
  • Balancing air and cruise visitors
  • Attracting smaller ships for Hamilton and St George’s, preferably regular callers who can provide two-port itineraries
  • Targeting fast growing European brands
  • Encouraging more overnight stays, as one day callers put a significant strain on local transportation
  • Providing relief for Bermuda’s stressed public transport system; and
  • Engaging the assistance of cruise line partners to invest in port and transport infrastructure
  • Marine & Ports to provide the service of night time pilotage, allowing cruise ships the opportunity to depart Bermuda later
  • Marine & Ports to invest in two new tugs and a reliable public ferry fleet
  • Build up the public bus fleet so that sightseeing tours can be reinstated to service the increase in
    cruise visitor numbers

We’ll take a look at the recommendations moving forward in this area of Bermuda’s Tourism Industry in the next ongoing report of the 2019 Green Paper on Transportation in Bermuda.