Coco Cay vendors sunk by Royal Caribbean signature store

Straw vendors in the Berry Islands argue that Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines’ (RCCL) newly opened signature store on its private island is on course to sink the island’s economy — with revenue slashes of 75 percent projected, Inderia Saunders reports in The Nassau Guardian.

Spokesperson for the Coco Cay vendors, Mary Neely-Knowles, said the straw vendors stationed on the private site simply cannot compete with the resources of the mega cruise company. It’s a fear she said is already manifesting on the island, even though the new signature/logo store has only been opened for roughly two weeks.

“We are selling T-shirts with the Coco Cay logo on it and they are selling T-shirts with the Coco Cay logo on it and Royal Caribbean . . . their t-shirts are $10, ours is $18,” she told Guardian Business yesterday. “And we can’t sell any lower [because] most of our T-shirts come from the States or Nassau [where] they start from $7 to $8, so you have to sell $15. “So why do they need to sell the same straw items, the hats, T-shirts, lotion, sunglasses and things that we are selling? We can’t compete.”

Already, Neely-Knowles said the around 42 workers at the Coco Cay site had already noticed a shift in passenger purchases. Further exacerbating the situation, she said, was the recent introduction of the cashless system by RCCL, where passengers use a charge card throughout their cruise experience. The change card has led many tourists to debark without the necessary cash to purchase the already higher priced items from the around 17 vendor stalls on the island.

If the situation persists, Neely-Knowles said vendor income on a daily base could be slashed by 75 percent. “It’s a big issue [because] you need to be able to live, especially when you’re on an isolated island,” she added.

“We understand that it’s their island and we appreciate the fact that they’re helping our economy, but at the same time the government can look out for its own people. The economy [is already] slow and this means we would have to let workers go.”

In a letter obtained by Guardian Business, approval was given to Royal Caribbean in June of 2010 by the Director of Investments, Gaydene McClain. A spokesperson from the Prime Minister’s Office yesterday confirmed that the cruise ship was given authority to operate the logo/signature store, but that the items would “have Royal Caribbean’s logo” on it.

The straw vendors assert that the distinction was just not enough and that the cruise store should sell higher-end items such as perfume so as not to over saturate the small island with similar goods.

Still, it is to be noted that the country faces competitive pressures from many destinations within the region offering lower port fees and head taxes.

The trend for governments to enter into agreements with those liners to construct state-of-the-art cruise port facilities often guarantees long-term traffic. Government officials have argued that it would be difficult for The Bahamas to maintain or grow its share of business without providing competitive incentives.

For Neely-Knowles and her colleagues, it’s a tough pill to swallow when faced when the harsh realities of declining opportunities.

“Ninety-nine percent of us are single mothers,” she said. “At this rate we’re going, we soon won’t have anything.”

For the original report go to http://www.thenassauguardian.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=12507&Itemid=2

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