St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) is expecting 224 cruise calls this season, up from zero last year.
The first cruise ship, Seaborne Odyssey, is expected to call at Port Elizabeth next week Saturday, Aug. 7, Minister of Tourism, Carlos James told a press conference on Tuesday.
He, however, added the caveat that, like for the rest of the season, the call is subject to the vagaries of the COVID-19 pandemic.
James said that the ship is hoping to call at Port Elizabeth every other Saturday until October.
“This is, of course, the early stages and we are expecting to see more calls being added to St. Vincent and the Grenadines as a destination. We anticipate additional calls and, of course, this is subject to, as I stated very early, the caveat as it relates to what transpires with COVID-19, both locally and internationally.
“As I said, we can be announcing this today and the next four, five months, we are announcing that we have to go back to the drawing board because of some development in the international market. There is limited movement of people, which affects cruise calls to our destination. But so far, we have roughly 224 calls listed for St. Vincent and the Grenadines this season.”
The minister said that out of the 224 calls, 14 are inaugural calls.
“And I think this is a tremendous achievement for our destination,” James said, that the 224 port calls will come despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the explosive eruption of La Soufriere.
“… this is positive news for us and this can only augur well for stakeholders in the industry and in terms of our economy and I am looking forward to seeing those 14 first-time vessels to our destination,” James said.
He said that some of the cruise ships are smaller vessels, “but I am anticipating welcoming each of them to our destination”.
Of the 224 calls, there are 19 vessels arriving on the same day, meaning that there may be two or more vessels in the port on the same day.
“Of course, this is going to be a humongous challenge for us as an industry as to how we navigate in terms of getting persons off of the vessels in a safe manner, getting them through the various sites which are tourism approved and getting them back onto the vessel.
“I know with confidence that the team at the Ministry of Tourism, the Tourism Authority and all of our agents will work together — the COVID-19 Taskforce — to ensure that this is done in a very successful and smooth way,” James said.
There will be 105 calls to Port Kingstown, 59 calls to Port Elizabeth, 35 calls to Mayreau, 12 to the Tobago Cays, 11 to Union Island and two to Canouan.
“And those of you who are concerns about large cruise ships going into the Tobago Cays and so on, it is really not the case, it is really where you have smaller vessels with capacity of 100—200, coming into our waters and using smaller pleasure crafts to go in to the Tobago Cays.
“We are looking to see quite a significant movement in terms of some of the larger vessels to our destination.”
He said that the destination is expecting calls from larger vessels, such as the Britannia and Azur, which each each have a capacity of around 4,000 passengers.
The minister, however, said he is not anticipating that these vessels will travel at full capacity in light of the distancing measure onboard and onshore.
James, however, said that he is still expecting that the vessels will bring a significant number of passengers.
“And we have to obviously prepare as to how we handle the season, how we ensure that safety remains the most critical word in all of the operation to ensure that COVID-19 is really something that we can contain and we can handle as it relates to the destination.”
The minister said that there were no port calls last year.
“And this year, what we are seeing now is tremendous move in terms of how we move forward in the industry, one that we ought to pay close attention to and we are here to signal the resumption of cruise to our destination for this cruise season and we are here to let the general public, including stakeholders, know that we are preparing ourselves, and stakeholders are jointly preparing with us to host all these vessels to St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
James commended Chief Medical Officer Dr. Simone Keizer-Beache, his team at the Ministry of Tourism, and the COVID-19 Taskforce for coming up with the protocols that would allow for the safe resumption of “early cruise” to the destination.
“We have been working very hard to make sure we make this a reality this year and that we don’t further delay the cruise calls to St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” the tourism minister said.