Once upon a time, many years ago, cruise ships coming into our harbor were a welcome sight. Merchants on Main Street made a brisk business selling “duty free” goods like jewelry and electronics, when customs duties into mainland America where 30% or more.
Cruise ships then carried between 600 and up to 1,500 passengers, and had a small “convenience” store on board that sold sunscreen, toiletry articles and the like.
The ships used to stay in port often until midnight, or even overnight, but nowadays they leave early or come in late, so that the passengers have little time on shore. They only have time to take an island tour or go shopping, but not both. The ships don’t want them to spend their money on shore.
But the ships got bigger and bigger, and the cruise operators got greedier and greedier. They could not see that other people made some money too.
So, they opened a lot of stores on board, like 20 or 30 and they sold everything “duty free” from jewelry to electronics to art auctions, etc.
For the shoreside stores, there was not much left that wasn’t sold on board. Maybe the passengers bought a few T-shirts with St. Thomas logo on them or a few postcards.
Now, I wouldn’t be surprised if they sell St. Thomas postcards and T-shirts on board too.
The cruise ship operators played one island against the other to get us to heel and accommodate their needs, or else “we don’t come to your port anymore.”
We have to spend millions of dollars to build one dock after another to satisfy their demands.
St. Thomas is a very small island and already, we have two ports and can take four to six of these monster ships. In comparison to the other Caribbean islands, which are much larger, we have already more dock space than they do. Now we should build a third one. And next year a fourth one, and on and on.
The only one that makes any money from the ships is the government with port fees and head tax. The postcard tourists are clogging our streets and spending little money and the hotel tourists that do spend money are not coming into town when the ships are in port, or are staying away from our tourist-polluted island altogether. Besides, we have to live here too, and have to put up with traffic congestion and pollution.
I don’t know how much the cruise ships sell an island tour, but I remember a few years ago it was $30, and from that the ones that did the real work — the taxi drivers — got only less than a third, $9. They pleaded with the cruise ships to give them “one” more dollar, but they refused.
Venice, Italy is also fed up with the mega cruise ships and they banned them from their port altogether. In Key West, 63% of voters limited cruise ships to 1,300 passengers each and not more than 1,500 total for each day, and 81% supported a measure to prefer cruise ships with the best environmental and health record.
The Key West Committee for Safer and Cleaner ships said:
“The people of Key West are thrilled to finally have some common-sense restrictions in place after 30 years of unregulated cruising that has damaged our environment, hampered economic growth, and threatened public health.”
And this is why some islands like Anguilla don’t want any of these monster ships to call. They prefer to cater to the high-end hotel guests that stay a while and spend some money.
Building this dock would destroy our beautiful harbor, just for a few times a year when there are more than six ships in town, and drive the luxury yachts away that dock at Yacht Haven Grande.
We are seeing the results from depending so much on cruise ships, but we never learn and we want to go deeper into that hole rather than favoring hotels, villas and Airbnbs.
Many stores on Main Street had already closed their doors even before the pandemic hit, because of the “intense” competition we are getting from the stores on board the ships. They are our biggest competitors, and now we should build another dock for them.
I don’t think so.
Now, if they would come with high-end passengers and smaller ships that have no stores onboard, that would be better than the “Greyhounds of the seas.”
Our small island cannot handle mass tourism like that without diminishing the quality of life for its inhabitants.
We don’t need another dock.
— Alfred Neumann, St. Thomas