Docking of five cruise ships brings city alive – but vendors report sparse takings

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Yesterday was the third time five boats have been docked simultaneously since the completion of the port’s fifth berth (Photo courtesy Global Ports Holding)
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By Gemma Handy

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The arrival of five cruise ships into St John’s yesterday brought the capital alive with an influx of visitors and transformed the streets into a hive of activity.

Throngs of taxi drivers, tour guides and souvenir sellers flooded into Redcliffe Quay and Heritage Quay in the hope of picking up some much-needed business.

It was the third time five boats have docked simultaneously since the completion of the port’s fifth berth in February last year.

And with the boardwalk connecting Heritage Quay to Nevis Quay now repaired and open to foot passengers once again, hopes were high all round for a profitable day.

Taxi driver and tour guide Jay Neville told Observer Wednesday had been “better than most days”.

“A lot of taxi guys got some work, but most days you leave for home and you come here and you think you will get work because there are ships in, but you get none. Sometimes ships are only half full,” he explained.

“But we carry on, hoping for better days,” he added.

With two of yesterday’s ships docked at Nevis Quay, affording direct access to the historic quarter of Redcliffe Quay, swarms of tourists could be seen in and around the area’s artisan boutiques.

But several business owners said while browsers were in abundance, most were reluctant to part with their cash. And those who did spend were asking for discounts.

One shop owner said she had had just one sale for the entire day.

The Covid pandemic has dealt an almighty blow to people’s wallets worldwide and many cruise passengers will be sticking to tight budgets.

“We’re glad to have the cruise ship passengers here. And we’ve had a lot of ‘lookers’, but they’re not really spending any money; they’re very frugal,” said Stephen Murphy, of Zemi Art Gallery.

“But the boardwalk has been fixed which absolutely helps in bringing foot traffic here. We’re always happy to see ships at Nevis Quay,” he added.

The cruise industry adds millions to local coffers each year in taxes and expenditure by those who disembark. But globally the sector became a poster child for the pandemic when countries across the world closed their borders in 2020 in a bid to contain the coronavirus.

Antigua saw no cruise ships at all for 16 months. Since the first one returned in July last year, there has been a “gradual return to normal business”, said Dona Regis-Prosper, General Manager of Antigua Cruise Port.

“It’s no secret that occupancy on board the ships is lower than it would normally be. Some are operating at 50 percent and some of them, out of an abundance of caution because we are still in an active pandemic, are operating in ‘bubble tours’ only,” she told Observer.

“So that significantly affects what a passenger would do and how much time they have to do it. But I want everybody to remain hopeful that we will get through this phase of the pandemic together.”

Regis-Prosper said the presence of five ships simultaneously in St John’s was a positive sign.

“It’s a great symbol and speaks volumes to the confidence the cruise lines have in Antigua,” she added.

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