Norwegian Cruise Line Pact Boosts St. George’s Tourism Turnaround
PHOTO: Ships from Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises Bermuda will call at St. George’s Bermuda in 2017 and 2018. (Photo courtesy of Bermuda Tourism Authority).
Last week’s agreement between Bermuda’s government and Norwegian Cruise Line for the territory’s St. George’s district to host 12 annual cruise ship calls between 2017 and 2022 is another step in the historic town’s tourism renaissance.
In addition to the annual calls at St. George’s, Norwegian also agreed to invest $150,000 annually to “enhance the cruise visitor experience in the town,” in cooperation with the Bermuda Tourism Authority (BTA) and to fund the operations of two catamaran ferries to shuttle visitors between St. George’s and Bermuda’s Royal Naval Dockyard facility.
In recent years the vast majority of cruise ships visiting Bermuda have called at the King’s Wharf pier at the Dockyard, which is outfitted to accommodate the largest cruise ships. Both St. George’s and the territory’s capital city of Hamilton, which had hosted cruise ships in past years, saw their calls decline sharply during this decade as vessels grew ever larger.
Norwegian’s new calls “will aid greatly in the revitalization of St George’s,” said Michael Dunkley, Bermuda’s premier at a press conference announcing the agreement. He added Bermuda “must adapt to the current industry trends, or risk getting left behind” in the face of strong competition from other warm-weather destinations.
The calls at St. George’s will be made by ships from Norwegian’s Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises luxury brands, said Frank Del Rio, Norwegian’s CEO. Vessels from those fleets are significantly smaller than the largest mainstream vessels, accommodating in the range of 700 guests compared with 2,000-plus for the largest cruise ships.
Del Rio said Regent Seven Seas’ Seven Seas Explorer, will likely be the first of the ships to visit Bermuda, possibly by the winter of 2017- 2018.
St. George’s is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and remains a key Bermuda attraction, in part due to its status as the Western Hemisphere’s oldest continuously inhabited English town, dating back to 1612.
The district’s once-strong cruise business declined in recent years as cruise vessels increasingly outgrew St. George’s and Hamilton facilities, turning to King’s Wharf at the Royal Naval Dockyard. The district also suffered from a dearth of new hotel and/or resort development.
The agreement with Norwegian follows recent efforts to ignite tourist activity in St George’s, including last summer’s announcement of a $120 million pact with hotel developer Desarrollos Hotelco Group to build a new resort in St. George’s on the site of a former Club Med. The hotel will be operated by Starwood Hotels & Resorts’ St. Regis brand; construction is slated to begin in the second quarter of 2016
The plan calls for a 238-room hotel with an 18-hole golf course, 24 villas, 16 estate residences, a spa and fitness center, swimming pools and a casino. Desarrollos Hotelco Group was identified through a government-led request for proposals process.
Francis Richardson, permanent secretary for Bermuda’s Ministry of Tourism Development and Transport last year said the Ministry was in discussions with Norwegian to charter a ship for the entirety of June 2017. The vessel would serve as a floating hotel in St. George’s during the America’s Cup events.
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