While the concept was rolled out some time ago, the details were largely announced in a media conference which took place at the Museum Park in Miami last week.
Never shy of dominating the global limelight, Sir Richard Branson announced that Virgin Cruises should have three brand new Italian built ships in the water by 2020, each with a mid-size capacity of 2,800 passengers and around 110,000 gross tons. www.virgincruises.com
I will not insult readers to guess the planned colour of these new vessels and it perhaps sets new parameters for the cruising industry, opening it up to a whole new market with a brand that is among the strongest on the planet. The placard statement ‘let’s make waves’ emblazoned on the arrival helicopter carrying Sir Richard said it all.
Virgin will have a huge marketing advantage by having its own airline and through the joint holding it has with Delta Airlines, the United States second largest carrier.
The first ship will operate out of the Port of Miami, the cruise capital of the world, with a quoted throughput of 4.8 million multi-day passengers in 2014 operating 7 day Caribbean cruises.
But there is an incredible opportunity for Barbados – if we can make it happen. With the Delta flights servicing two of the largest airports in the USA, Atlanta and New York and Virgin Atlantic proving the only scheduled carrier to operating direct flights out of two major British hubs, Gatwick and Manchester, could the second or third ship, homeport from Barbados?
This would give travellers a myriad of holiday options. Fly from the UK to Barbados, cruise to another island and fly back to England from there. All with the same airline and cruise brand.
By enticing Virgin Cruises to Barbados, it could directly benefit us in so many ways. Stay and cruise options, provisioning and higher employment on the ships with more ‘locals’ are among the potential.
So what could persuade Virgin Cruises to position one ship here?
Of course there are historic precedents of subsidising selected tourism partners.
Carnival Corporation benefited from a massive ‘marketing support’ subsidy often quoted as amounting to $400,000 annually for six years. We should also remember the outstanding loan of US$15 million to charter the Carnival Destiny for CWC 2007. Whether this is part of the disclosed ‘non-performing’ debt owed by our local tourism industry and frequently referred to by the bankers association, is any taxpayers guess.
The current Government agreed to waive a minimum estimated $10 million annually in VAT to a single accommodation provider, based on minimum quoted room rate and almost full occupancy, while every other lodging option is bound to pay at least 7.5 per cent and most other sector partners, the higher rate of 17.5 per cent.
This gross disparity will be further compounded when VAT is levied on what are by many considered staple commodities like potatoes and rice.
A simple conclusion that could be reached is that the general populous will be paying for the subsidy given uniquely to Sandals through increased VAT collection.
Some skeptical or perhaps more realistic people may interpret this as a modern day analogy of a Robin Hood reversal scenario, by robbing the poor to pay the rich.
* Editor’s Note: Adrian Loveridge didn’t call Sir Richard Branson a “lucky old bastard!”… BFP’s Robert did that so don’t blame Adrian.