NASSAU, Bahamas – Royal Caribbean Oasis Of The Seas made its inaugural visit to Nassau, Bahamas on Friday, December 11th. Rt. Hon. Hubert A. Ingraham, MP Prime Minister was on the Prince George Dock to welcome Colleague Ministers, Leader of the Opposition, Ambassador Nicole Avant, Mr. Adam Goldstein, President and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Mr. Michael Ronan, Vice President of RCCL Captain William Wright, Master of the Vessel and special guests.
It is a singular honour for me to welcome the Oasis of the Sea on its first call at our capital City of Nassau. You have sailed into an historic cruise port; perhaps only Havana in our region has a longer tradition of receiving visitors traveling via cruise liner – and we have done so for as many as 100 years.
We are a warm and welcoming people in The Bahamas with a long tradition of tourism. Still, your arrival has been one of the most anticipated at our city’s harbour in recent memory. I trust that all who have journeyed here will enjoy their stay in our country and determine, as a popular tune long ago proclaimed: when you come to The Bahamas “once is not enough”.
Because you come during an especially challenging time for tourism — amidst a global economic recession and international financial crisis — your presence is all the more welcomed and appreciated.
RCCL and The Bahamas have a long-standing, mutually beneficial relationship having over the years withstood the peaks and valleys of the tourism marketplace which feeds both our economic engines.
Tourism matters in The Bahamas; it is our number one industry, and of the 4.3 million visitors who come to our shores, 2.8 million come by cruise ship. RCCL is a significant player in this sector bringing some 700,000 passengers, 25% of all cruise passengers, to our shores annually.
We are always interested in improving our capacity to meet the needs and desires of the growing numbers of visitors to our shores. So we were happy to accommodate RCCL’s request that we enlarge our security screening facilities to accommodate the increased passenger capacity of the Oasis. Toward this end a temporary security building along Pier 26 here on Prince George Wharf. The building is outfitted with six state-of-the-art security scanners (manned by 23 new security officers), rest room facilities and other basic necessities to permit efficient screening of returning passengers to the Oasis of the Seas with minimum delays.
It is proposed to that this temporary facility be replaced with a new, permanent structure next year. RCCL will fund all costs associated with the construction of the building. The construction and operating costs for the new facility will be recovered through a new Security Fee and Security Facility Fee for cruise passengers.
We are pleased that RCCL has also agreed to establish the appropriate procedures, protocols and fee structure to enable the new security facilities to be utilized by operators of other cruise lines using the pier.
As you may be aware, great attention is being placed on the enhancement of the environment of Nassau. The upgrade of our City’s infrastructure is being undertaken with a view to improving its aesthetics as well as increasing our offerings to residents and visitors alike.
The Downtown Nassau Partnership, public-private sector collaboration, was established specifically to guide the redevelopment process and a draft master plan is under consideration.
This plan is intended to provide for beautification and rebuilding as well as the introduction of entertainment. In short we hope to make the downtown Nassau experience such that visitors would be able to return home and tell their friends and relatives that “It’s better in The Bahamas”.
In support of such rejuvenation of the city, my Government enacted legislation providing tax concessions connected to the renovation of historic and other interesting buildings in our city centre and encouraging the development of new venues for Bahamian entertainment.
On Tuesday, we will execute a $12 million contract for the construction of the new 37,000 sq. ft. Straw Market at the Bay Street site of the historic market destroyed by fire in 2001. We expect that the new market will be in place and operational by the late spring of 2011.
Soon also, an “All-Bahamian” craft market will be completed for the display of premium quality Bahamian made craft and souvenirs.
Over 200 taxi drivers are anxious to show-off our historic sites, our botanical gardens, parks, and old and new residential communities. Water-based tour operators also stand by, ready to show off the glory that is our marine environment.
So as to better facilitate and expedite visitors’ easy access to tours, we have introduced a new programme which provides for the water-based tours to leave from within the sterile dock area.
We confidently expect that the port improvements here at Prince George Dock, together with the redevelopment taking place in downtown Nassau, will result in an improved and more enjoyable visitor experience in Nassau.
I should also like to acknowledge the importance to us of the spending by members of your crew which is quite significant. In recognition of that contribution, the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation has created crew cards that provide opportunities for the crew members to obtain discounts at various local shops.
I also acknowledge that we have had a number of challenges in Nassau in recent years; we are diligently working to overcome these. I assure RCCL and, indeed, all cruise lines calling at Nassau, that the Government takes seriously its obligation to provide a safe environment in our city. We want every visitor to our country to feel good about being here. We seek to make visitors’ stay safe and enjoyable so that they look forward not only to returning but also to sending their friends.
We offer our congratulations to RCCL on the achievement of this tremendous addition to the cruise industry. My Government will continue to demonstrate our commitment to this business as we seek to ensure that the relationship remains mutually beneficial and that your guests will continue to demand a Bahamas vacation.
On behalf of the Government and people of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas I welcome you and I thank you!