Editorial: Dear John

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The news came in the form of a ‘Dear John’ letter of sorts dated, (gasp!) February 14, 2019, and as is the nature of ‘Dear John’ letters, it was quite a shock to Antiguans and Barbudans.  Seems, Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) is ending its relationship with our fair state. Apparently, they are none-too-pleased with our new relationship with Global Port Holdings (GPH). Neither are many Antiguans and Barbudans! Of course, they were more-than-a-little peeved at the fact that, as major stakeholders, they were not included in the conversation. Their pique is evidenced by their assertion that, “We hope you regard our partnership with the same respect we do, . . . Please keep in mind that the cruise lines know their guests the best and would be ready willing and able to provide feedback directly with the government and/or company in order to best develop something that fully optimises cruise tourism and its potential economic benefits.”
Not surprisingly, by his own words, our Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, admitted that there could have been more consultation and more dialogue with the major stakeholders, and he expressed that sentiment as one of his regrets with the way the Global Port matter was handled. All well and good! But a lack of transparency, and a failure to communicate with stakeholders (See Barbuda. See Canadian visa concerns that were not communicated to the people) has been a hallmark of this government – the ‘coin of the realm,’ if you will, and we fear that this lack of forthrightness and the knee-jerk resistance to discourse will continue for the foreseeable future.  This administration’s ‘My way, or the highway’ concept of governance is here to stay. So too, is the bullying, (See Sandals and the Bank of Nova Scotia).
But not everyone will be putting up with this type of abusive relationship, hence the FCCA decision to file for divorce. According to their Valentine’s Day letter, “We thank the government of Antigua for its longstanding partnership with the cruise industry, and we praise the initiative to secure new pier works that will accommodate larger ships and product enhancements to improve the passenger experience . . . all of which we strongly support. However, we must bring to your attention how this will affect your partner and customer: the cruise lines that were responsible for generating $77.7 million in direct expenditures, in addition to 1, 466 jobs paying wages of 14.4 million in Antigua and Barbuda during the 2017 – 2018 cruise year.”
That is serious cheese, and certainly nothing to sneeze at. Never mind the dismissive and narrow-minded comments by the ruling party faithful that Carnival Cruise Lines had done the same thing in the past, and that they had returned, and that Global Port was still going to be making money anyway, and that two of the four ships mentioned as not returning for the 2019 -2020 season had not called on Antigua in a while, and other such obtuse fare. In other words, no big deal! Huh? Tell that to the taxi drivers, tour operators, souvenir vendors, storeowners and bars and restaurants! Talk about whistling past a graveyard! (Seeing potential danger, but pretending to be cool and calm, and protesting that everything will be okay). We submit that the proverbial ostrich burying its head in the sand has nothing on these true believers.
Meanwhile, even as true believers were showing a lack of proper concern about the impending severance of that longstanding and extremely lucrative relationship (more than a few men and women on the street in the industry were testifying as to the brisk business whenever the Carnival cruise ships were at the port), the government’s Chief of Staff, Lionel “Max” Hurst was admitting that “The loss of any vessels will cause a certain amount of pain.” And we agree. We submit that, on any number of levels, this cannot be good news, no matter how the misguided “Amen corner” might try to spin it. Further, we suggest that this parting of the ways is the result of a sort of conceit; a ‘know-it-all’ approach to doing business that does not play well in other parts of the world. Indeed, it is frowned upon. So too are unflattering references to our business partners as “cartels” and “neo-colonialists.” And we are paying the price! A rather high price! Think unintended consequences and “Chickens coming home to roost!”
Sadly, we fear that there will be more fallout from this insidious GPH deal. There is more er . . . how can we put this delicately,  . . . “doo-doo to hit the fan!” And it is most definitely not the fault of the “People’s right to assemble and petition their government for a redress of grievances!” as was so unfortunately articulated by the aforementioned Lionel “Max” Hurst thusly, “I guess maybe it comes from what we saw happen last week Thursday when four cruise ships were in port and the United Progressive Party staged a picket down at Heritage Quay. I saw them on the stairwell on the second floor . . .using a megaphone in the middle of the day . . . then I  . . .um . . . heard Senator Philip Shoul in the senate condemning them for so doing, knowing fully well that holding a demonstration at the cruise port was just not a good idea, it would only scare ships away he said . . . !” What? This shocking and inaccurate (the demonstration was staged on February 28, some two weeks after the Dear John letter) being proffered as the reason by the son of the great Antiguan who, along with Papa V.C. and other notables, staged a demonstration at O’Neil’s Drug Store on the corner of High and Thames Street (one block from Heritage Quay) “in the middle of the day?” (The reminder of that salient fact was given to Antiguans and Barbudans on yesterday’s VOICE OF THE PEOPLE broadcast by Papa V.C.’s grandson, Vere Bird III, and we certainly thank him for that).
Look folks, as per the Dear John letter, “We urge you to consider the implications that these exorbitant increases (a high Variable Concession Fee and Cruise Passenger Charge, higher than ‘all port charges in most Caribbean ports’), . . . could have on that outlook. Even in the short-term picture, the costs in 2019 and 2020 already would greatly impact cruise lines . . . because those costs would cause many lines to reevaluate their itinerary-planning decisions moving forward . . .!” Plain and simple – it will not make good business sense!
The livelihoods of many Antiguans and Barbudans will be adversely affected by this unfortunate development, and we here at NEWSCO certainly trust that our government will press the ‘pause,’ heck, the ‘annul’ button in its unpopular haste to consummate this unholy marriage with Global Port Holdings.

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