By Paul Scott Abbott, AJOT
No better proof that it is tourism that fuels cargo trade to islands of the Caribbean region may be found than the fact that it was the Bahamian minister of tourism who led a recent trade conference delegation visit to the Port of Palm Beach.
Tropical Shipping ships sail from the Riviera Beach port to the islands with materials to build resorts and supply food eaten by tourists. The economies of the Bahamas and other island nations rely heavily upon tourism-related income to give their citizens money to buy a full range of consumer goods.
Some 70% of Bahamas’s gross domestic product comes from tourism, according to Bahamian Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe, who noted, “That’s what gives us the resources to purchase goods.”
In a July 22 business forum at the Port of Palm Beach that included Bahamian delegates as well as some 30 representatives of Palm Beach County business and government entities, Tropical Shipping President Rick Murrell said he is hoping to spur further cargo trade with the Bahamas by extending to those islands a program he initiated several years ago elsewhere in the Caribbean. The program encourages cruise passengers to return to the islands for land holidays. Cruise visitors are given specially minted coins redeemable for future island hotel stays.
“When the hotels fill, it means more business for Tropical,” Murrell said, adding that tourism-related income helps island residents be healthier, experience less crime, and have funds for public works projects as well. “It’s a ‘win-win’’ all the way down the line.”
Tropical Shipping, through the Port of Palm Beach, handles about 50% of all US exports to the Bahamas, according to Michael Maura Jr., the carrier’s assistant vice president. The Bahamian business represents 15% of Tropical’s total cargo volume. Tropical provides extensive services throughout the Caribbean region.
The Aug. 19 restart of passenger ferry service between the Port of Palm Beach and the Grand Bahama Island port of Freeport is also being viewed as a generator of additional trade volumes.
Antoine Gurrey, president of Party Line Cruise Co., which operates the 367-passenger Cloud X, said the small waterplane-area, twin-hull (SWATH) vessel is capable only of carrying personal baggage in addition to passengers, but his company is partnering with Tropical to provide for shipment of appliances and other large items that Bahamians buy while visiting South Florida. Now-resolved gearbox problems had kept the Cloud X, which operated briefly last year, out of service for several months.
“The Bahamas is our bread and butter, and we always want to expand upon that,” said Port of Palm Beach District Commissioner Wayne M. Richards, who was among leaders of a Feb. trade mission to the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic organized by the port and the World Trade Center Palm Beach.
The two Palm Beach entities have announced plans for a similar mission next year, heading to Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago from Feb. 5-9.