Retailers pin hopes on record cruise callers
Tourism-dependent retailers are salivating over a record number of cruise calls expected to hit Bermuda ports in 2023, starting today.
After years of slowdowns, lockdowns and shutdowns impacting their revenues, they are cautiously optimistic about the year ahead with an historic 224 cruise calls spread throughout the calendar year.
Business owners in the Town of St George are expecting better fortunes as well, once plans are devised and implemented by a number of local committees.
Terry Roberts of Paradise Gift Shop said he was optimistic: “There are a number of local committees working hard to create some more activity for the town.
“I think they are making progress. They have gotten together to plan local events to attract both locals and tourists to the town. I have to give them kudos, because they are trying hard and I believe it will work to our advantage.”
There is also hope the new marina will bring a steady clientele of the yachting crowd, once it opens later in the year.
But for these retailers right now, cruise ships are the only game in town. Some 90 per cent of their business comes from visitors, and leisure travellers by air have been few and far between in recent years.
Vacation rentals and newer properties like the St Regis Hotel have helped, but Government figures show that tourism in the year before the pandemic had dropped so low, its contribution to GDP had fallen to a paltry 5.1 per cent.
Then came the pandemic. Tourism’s contribution to GDP dropped lower to 1.8 per cent in 2020 and “rebounded marginally” to 2.2 per cent in 2021.
Gross value added derived from direct tourist spending in 2021 accounted for just $157 million. Compare that to resident spending on foreign travel of $227 million.
But tourism-centred retailers continue to keep a stiff upper lip.
Davison’s of Bermuda general manager Laura Pitt said with hotel closures, more cruise visitors in 2023 will be important.
Davison’s designs and manufactures a souvenir apparel line and also sells accessories, souvenirs and giftware items at stores in Hamilton, St George and in the west end.
She said: “We didn’t have the luxury of the last two seasons of regular visitors. With the loss of hotel beds, the extra ships we picked up have helped, with visits into January.
“A regular caller came in during December just before Christmas. So that helped, definitely making up some of the loss from the closures at Southampton Princess, Elbow Beach and the rest.
“We’re being told Southampton Princess is a third of our hotel inventory. Most of Elbow Beach has been closed since before Covid.”
Mr Roberts has been operating Paradise Gift Shop in St. George’s since 1976. He has seen tourism’s heydays when there were dedicated ships at Penno’s Wharf.
He has hope for this year.
He said: “The shop did very well early on, right up to the time when the cruise ships stopped coming. That was really the downfall for St George, when we lost our cruise ships.
“The ships got bigger and we missed an opportunity to dredge the town cut – not widen it, but dredge it. It would have allowed ships like the Volendam to get in.
“But because of the silt that has built up, I understand that is not possible any more.
“I don’t even think the issue of the Town Cut is still on the back burner. I think they may have thrown it into the trash altogether. I’ve heard nothing more concerning that, whatsoever.”
Mr Roberts said the Norwegian Getaway and the Epic cruise ships’ provision of a free ferry for their passengers between Dockyard and St George has mostly worked well.
He said of the tourist business in the old town: “We’ve just been hanging in there. Things improved this past year a bit from 2020 and 2021, but we need to do better in order to keep the businesses running.
“We were lucky enough to get a couple of ships in town this season. It makes a big, big difference to have a cruise ship alongside, because it just gives the whole town a buzz.”
The 2023 cruise ship season begins today with the arrival of the Norwegian Gem, but now stretching deeper into the year, with a score or more ships every month from April to November – including the most ships, surprisingly in November when there will be 28, according to the published schedule.
Just prior to Christmas, Minister of Transport Wayne Furbert said: "The total estimated economic impact is $200 million, an increase of 28 per cent over 2022's estimated economic impact.
“The capacity projections for 2023 are estimated at 80 per cent or 559,000 cruise ship passengers.
“Revenue is estimated at $146.3 million in passenger and crew spending, $23.6 million in passenger tax, $10.2 million in transport infrastructure tax, $6.6 million in visitor fees, and $12.4 million in cruise ship port expenses.”