POVEY: Pleasure cruise industry will be challenged to keep workers
The local pleasure cruise industry could be hit by layoffs as operators struggle to recoup millions of dollars in COVID-related business losses over the past two years and maintain staff levels in the face of a tourist season gloomy summer.
The valuation was made by Cool Runnings Catamaran Cruises manager and owner Robert Povey on Friday following news that the iconic Jolly Roger had been put on the market for $350,000.
The party ship, which made its first sailing trip out of the Careenage in Bridgetown in 1969, has entertained locals and visitors for decades.
Povey said while he was unaware of any other local cruise lines planning to pull out, it could happen, especially for those who rely on tourists.
“I would say it’s very possible . . . Especially in this early summer, it’s definitely going to be tough,” said Povey, who has been in the business for 25 years. Barbados TODAY.
Povey, whose company has sometimes helped Jolly Roger, 53, said it ceased operations due to a combination of circumstances – the death of its owner Martin Bynoe and a lack of cruise ships coming here. “Martin was very good at it [party cruises] and it is unfortunate that he died. This contributed to the Jolly Roger not working. . . and also the lack of cruise ships,” said the entrepreneur.
Looking at the industry as a whole, the Cool Runnings boss said his colleagues who operate 30 to 40 catamarans and two to three larger cruise ships are currently in survival mode.
He said the COVID-19 pandemic and the disappointing summer ahead hadn’t made things better.
In fact, Povey said he had to dip into his own pockets to keep his workers employed and he thinks some employees in the sector may have to be sent home between the end of June and September.
“Maybe in the summer. I myself had a hard time because I like to keep my employees. I have a good relationship with them. I had to use my savings to keep some of these guys that I know for 15 and 20 years, who not only work for me, but who I really know and love and respect,” he said.
“My struggle was that I had to dip into whatever savings I had to be able to keep everyone on a level, and I was hoping the summer would be better than it looks. . . . I hope the layoffs will not be around the corner during this long summer.
Focusing on the financial fallout from the pandemic, Povey expressed deep concern over the substantial debts of cruise and pleasure boat businesses that have had a domino effect on other areas.
“I should definitely say millions and millions of dollars, not just in the cruise industry, but for everyone attached to it. . . taxi drivers, cooks. . . . I myself have four chefs who work for me alone. The [are] about 30 or 40 different taxi drivers who work in the industry, and that’s just one company. So if you add everyone up, it’s pretty big,” the catamaran company owner said.
Povey said patronage has resumed since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, but he warned industry players will struggle through the summer.
However, the businessman did not predict any pessimism for the sector, since he says he anticipates an encouraging winter tourist season.
“I think winter is looking pretty good. Hopefully by November cruise ships will be back up. It’s not my full-fledged market, but I much prefer when cruise ships are It’s prevalent across industry in all areas of our economy,” Povey said.
He suggested that the various players in the local cruise industry diversify rather than rely on tourist arrivals, although he acknowledged that it would be a financial challenge to undertake such a move at this time.
“I think a lot of them [businesses] are in the hole after COVID, with different debts. . . . Diversifying now is also going to be difficult as they still have to try to recoup two years of losses,” he said.