Tourism Minister: New deal with cruise agency to bring jobs and more passengers

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A deal promising significant cruise passenger arrivals, more revenue for local businesses and jobs for Antiguans and Barbudans has been reached between the government of Antigua and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (RCCL).

This is according to Tourism Minister Charles “Max” Fernandez who told OBSERVER media the major details were finalised last Thursday, and just a few minor areas have to be addressed.

One aspect of the deal, he said, is, “Apart from the agreement they are making with Global Ports Holdings, which is separate and apart from us, the agreement they have with us is that they are going to double the passenger arrivals from about 250,000 per annum over the next five years to 500,000 per year.”

Another deal is that RCCL has “agreed to look to do an onshore development similar to what they’ve done in the Bahamas … I estimate it would be a minimum of about US$50 million in investment on land. That is important for us because it is an added product to sell to the island and that means they will now definitely have a commitment to bring these ships apart from the commitment to the port.”

According to him, this arrangement would not negatively affect other businesses, such as tour operators and products, because it is expected that with additional passengers coming in, the demand for more products would increase.

The minister said the agency was on island two weeks ago, scouting locations most suitable for the business venture.

Additionally, Minister Fernandez said RCCL has “agreed also to open positions on their ships for Antiguans and Barbudans who are desirous and they will be prepared to train them for them to come and work on the ships.”

An increase in the head tax was also agreed, but Minister Fernandez said the specific details about this arrangement would not be made public because the parties signed a non-disclosure agreement.

He, however, said the increase of the head tax will be incremental.

Meanwhile, the minister said talks for the deal with RCCL commenced after the fiasco with Carnival Cruise Lines which, two months ago, announced the pulling out a number of ships from the upcoming 2019/2020 winter season following the government’s announcement of US $80 million exclusive 30-year concession agreement with Global Ports Holdings (GPH) to manage cruise port facilities and operations in the country.

The GPH agreement also includes the financing of a fifth cruise pier to accommodate the OASIS Class vessels, and additional investments aimed at improving the shopping and other entertainment amenities in and around Heritage Quay. The government has since said the GPH-deal would not be an exclusive 30-year one and the agreement would be revised to reflect this.

Minister Fernandez explained the significance of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines to the overall plan.

“Royal Caribbean is very important because they are the ones that are doing the OASIS flag ships … we came to an agreement but besides agreeing with us they were also negotiating with Global Ports Holdings because they now want to partner with Global Ports Holdings in the development of the fifth pier and the Heritage Quay development project down in St. John’s,” he said.

He said a deal between RCCL and GPH would serve all parties well, particularly the government which has been criticised for the ‘giveaways’ – as described by opposers of the project.

 “It is an important step for us because people were saying Global Ports doesn’t have ships and they are running the port and they do not know how to control the ships.”

Asked about the status of the GPH deal with the government and the pending court case set for hearing on June 4, Fernandez said the government is pressing on with the agreement and the case has slowed, but not stopped, the plans.

 The case was filed by Sir George Ryan, James Spencer and Clefrin “Chalkie” Colbourne who are arguing that the government entered the agreement with Global Ports without first making an application to the Tenders’ Board, established by the 1991 Tenders Board Act.

They also claim a breach of the 2006 Finance Administration Act; and that the agreement was made without informing those affected or concerned by the agreement including, but not limited to, the St. John’s Development Corporation (SJDC).

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