US Virgin Islands could benefit from rift between Carnival Cruise Line and Antigua

by | Apr 18, 2019 | United States Virgin Islands | Comments

Carnival Cruise Line’s slogan is fairly famous: Choose Fun.

However, away from all the drinks consumed, shows attended, and all-around debauchery had aboard their cruise ships, Carnival is engaged in a not-so-fun war of words with the government of Antigua.

It all started after the Antiguan government agreed to a deal with Global Ports Holding, a London based private firm that touts themselves as “the largest cruise ship port operator.” This agreement is for 30 years and will see over $80 million invested into St. John, Antigua’s largest port-town.

What appears a harmless, run-of-the-mill public-private investment opportunity quickly soured when it was revealed Antigua chose Global Ports Holding over the preferred and lobbied-for choice of the cruise ship industry, for which Carnival represents a large voice.

Carnival is angered by the operating cost increases it believe will accompany this deal, and it argues that this will inversely impact the economic validity of Antigua’s cruise ship business.

So, Carnival has made the drastic and rather-sudden decision to pull out of Antigua all together. Its four largest ships, the Breeze, Magic, Pride and Legend will no longer make stops in Antigua beginning in November of this year.

Obviously, that decision angered some in Antigua, namely Nathan Dundas the president of the Antigua and Barbuda Cruise Tourism Association.

“I am afraid that we may see more cancellations and it is indeed cause for concern as these cancellations will impact everyone business from store owners to tour operators and bars and restaurants etc,” Dundas continued. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see Princess, Holland America, Seabourn and other European Lines making cancellations going forward.”

Dundas also proclaimed that this decision would see the elimination of some 250,000 tourist from Antigua, that would normally visit on Carnival ships.

Shortly after Dundas went public with his remarks, the Minister of Tourism for Antigua and Barbuda Henry Charles “Max” Fernandez rebuked Dundas with his own strongly-worded statement claiming Dundas words were “unequivocally a misleading and scare-mongering statement.”

“Normally, Carnival Cruise Line makes only three or four calls to Antigua and Barbuda annually,” Fernandez continued. “The total number of passengers that could be affected by these cancellations is approximately 12,200. This is a relatively small number of the total cruise passengers that visit our country annually. Therefore, while we regret any loss of business, however, small in percentage terms, we do not anticipate any significant adverse impact on the stakeholders in our economy.”

So as Antiguan officials argue over how much this decision by Carnival may or may not impact their own economy, only one thing is for certain: Other caribbean nations and islands will surely benefits from Antigua’s dispute. First among many other may just be the United States Virgin Islands.

The US Virgin Islands is in the midst of a tourism overhaul. The islands are building new hotels and redesigning one of their main ports that some cruise liners use. The islands’ Senate also just recently confirmed a new Tourism Commissioner, Joseph Boschulte who has many grand plans to rejuvenate and increase the already-important tourism economic sector of the territories economy.

Furthermore, just last year Carnival returned to St. Croix island on US Virgin islands after a 17 year absence.

The West Indian Company, which runs one of the territories most active ports, is keeping a close eye on the evolving Antigua-Carnival dispute. Clifford Graham, WICO’s chief executive officer, recently enumerated the importance of call priority in cruise liner itinerary, “WICO certainly recognizes that call priority is important as you will get the benefits from early shoppers with early calls on itineraries.”

This opportunity for the US Virgin Islands is important. The Cruise liner competition in the Caribbean is intense, and any chance these islands have to reap a greater influx of tourist they must seize.

What may just end up being Antigua loss, could be the US Virgin Islands gain.