By Sam Duncombe, reEarth
Cruise lines bring millions of passengers to The Bahamas every year and they have pledged to bring even greater hordes in the near future.
The cruise industry understands our country is easily accessible, warm, sunny and capable of generating huge corporate profits because our government is so readily manipulated and we, the people, are so disengaged in own future.
The cruise industry is strip mining this country and our government is a willing co-conspirator. Indeed, selling out to the cruise industry is tantamount to selling this nation to the lowest bidder. And we’re letting it happen.
The outside world looks on in genuine bewilderment as one Bahamian administration after another allows the cruise industry players to set up shop in private enclaves, capturing virtually all revenue. Worse still, we sit on shore as these enormous gilded galleons sail off into the sunset without leaving any significant contribution behind.
The world searches for some kind of reasonable explanation as to why a sovereign nation would allow itself to be so profoundly exploited but none springs to mind — other than corruption. And who could blame the outside world for coming to such a conclusion? After all, the decisions being made by government are so obviously misguided that explanations are really hard to come by.
Although the vast majority of tourists visiting The Bahamas are cruise passengers, the cruise industry contributes only around 10 percent to the nation’s GDP. So-called “stay-over” tourism accounts for the lion’s share of GDP in The Bahamas.
Notwithstanding this striking imbalance in the segment of the economy most important to The Bahamas, the government appears downright giddy to grant foreign cruise lines the kind of economic concessions that would make even an oligarch blush.
It does not, however, routinely grant similar economic concessions to its own internal investors. Instead, it clings to policies that make it very difficult to do business in the country.
As a matter of fact, according to the international “Ease of Doing Business Index”, it is easier to do business in occupied Palestine than it is in The Bahamas . . . unless you are a foreign cruise line.
And then there’s the ship “flagging” conundrum. Cruise lines and shipping companies use The Bahamas as a “flag of convenience” because the country has weak labor laws, no comprehensive and enforceable environmental framework, and no freedom of information legislation.
The political relationship between the cruise industry and the government is thus tainted, just like the financial relationship between the two parties. Government is dis-incentivized to improve labor, environment and transparency because the cruise and shipping industries would object. Imagine if the Castaway Cay foreign visa records were open to the public or if The Bahamas had an environmental framework like the America’s EPA.
So, notwithstanding global outrage, the Bahamian government green-lighted Disney Cruise Line’s planned desecration one of the most pristine, awe-inspiring sites in the archipelago (Lighthouse Point, Eleuthera). The deal is nothing less than parasitic. Sadly, it is the standard relationship between the cruise industry and the Bahamian government.
Disney Cruise Line was allowed to purchase the Lighthouse Point property despite the fact that a home-grown, alternative development plan was proposed in which all investors would be Bahamian and all revenues would remain in-country. Quite simply, the government lacked faith in its own people and did not believe they could capitalize on the Lighthouse Point site.
Astonishingly, the government granted to Disney, a company with earnings approaching $70 Billion, economic concessions that will cost The Bahamas millions upon millions of dollars over the years. For example, Disney will not be required to share profits or revenues of any kind. It will not be required to pay taxes on any monies generated by the project. It will pay no value added tax (VAT). It will pay no real property tax. It will pay no import duties or levies. In addition, Disney has unfettered discretion with respect to local hiring and vendor access.
At best, and even though it estimates upwards of one million passengers will descend upon the site every year, only 150 Bahamians will be given jobs. Meanwhile, according to financial analyst, Evercore ISI, Disney Cruise Lines enjoys profit margins akin to those enjoyed by “Big Pharma,” a business sector universally reviled for its greediness.
Given the vast sums of money conceded away in the Lighthouse deal and others like it, one has to ask, “if the government was willing to give up millions in the form of concessions, why wouldn’t it simply invest the same amount in its own people!”
As mentioned, a coalition of local investors was poised and ready to create an exciting, sustainable, low impact development at Lighthouse Point that would have created more full-time jobs, a viable tourism economy in south Eleuthera, and revenues that would actually remain in the country.
Instead of supporting (dare we say ‘subsidize’) this internal investment scheme, the government again chose so-called foreign investment that looks to all the world like shameless exploitation.
These private cruise line enclaves are a cancer eating away at our tourism economy. Meanwhile, the doctors (our elected officials) force-feed the patient one carcinogen after another. More than 300,000 people from across The Bahamas and around the world have decried the destruction of Lighthouse Point and the parasitic nature of the deal but our government appears to remain entirely oblivious.
Indeed, they actually continue to advocate for MORE such deals. We are left to wonder why eight cruise line private enclaves are not enough.
Perhaps, just perhaps, we are beginning to experience an outrage tipping point triggered by recent announcements by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and the Bahamian government that a large tract of land has been granted to the cruise line at the expense of an existing local enterprise. Once again, the government seems hell-bent on allowing a cruise line to isolate its passengers away from general commerce so the company can capture all revenues without sharing.
Once again, a foreign “investor” intent on repatriating every penny of earnings it derives from The Bahamas is given priority over a local Bahamian businessperson. To add salt to the wound, the Bahamian AG publicly accused the Bahamian entrepreneur of being unpatriotic and greedy for objecting to the Government’s demand that he move his operation elsewhere.
The PR engines are revving loudly. The spin doctors are suiting up. The cruise industry associations are ginning up fanciful flights of economic extrapolation. Regrettably, we know from experience The Bahamian government will do everything in its power to support whatever nonsense the cruise industry wants to broadcasts to the Bahamian people and the world at large.
Isn’t it time for The Bahamian people to stand up and insist on a more balanced relationship with the cruise industry? Is that notion really so revolutionary? Isn’t it time for the government to focus on the segment of our tourism economy that actually matters, the stay-over tourists?
We need more eco-lodges, not private cruise ports.
We need more boutique hotels, not grotesque private amusement parks like Coco Cay.
Isn’t it time for a moratorium on private cruise ports? Isn’t it time we stop being exploited by the cruise industry and our own government?