Thursday, March 22, 2012

ALEXANDER VON HUMBOLDT in the Bahamas


By Jeffrey Todd (Guardian Business Editor - jeffrey@nasguard.com) 
After two long months at sea, a historic German ship has arrived in Grand Bahama, bringing with it 20 new jobs for Bahamians.
The Alexander Von Humboldt, a 205-foot vessel built in 1906, sailed into Freeport Harbour to large crowds, music and fanfare. Saved from the scrapyard, the ship will now be incorporated into Grand Bahama Adventure Tours and take on approximately 30,000 tourists every year.Carnival has signed an agreement with the tour company to circulate passengers through the ship five days per week, according to Erika Gates, the president of the company. Gates, who founded the tour company more than 20 years ago after arriving in The Bahamas from Germany, said the arrival of Von Humboldt is an especially proud moment in her career. "It was supposed to be scrapped, but we saved it," she said. "We'll be operating out of Freeport Harbour now, committed to Carnival five days of the week and doing two tours per day. That is a big improvement in terms of getting people off the ship."
According to the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA), more than 1.3 million tourists will arrive on the island this year from cruise ships. Due to Grand Bahama's proximity to the U.S., it has proven to be a growing and fuel efficient stopover for cruise companies. However, it's estimated that just 15 percent of passengers disembark due to a lack of services. Gates is being seen by local stakeholders on the island as an example to other entrepreneurs. She encourages others to step up and fill the void, and in the process, creating jobs and spin-off opportunities for the economy.
The Department of Statistics currently pegs Grand Bahama's unemployment at more than 21 percent. The new tour with the Von Humboldt, conducted by a Bahamian crew of 20 men and women, takes three hours, Gates explained. The ship has 25 iconic green sails rising to 111 feet. Bahamian mariners must actually hoist the sails and climb the masts to accomplish this feat. A German crew is still on-hand in Grand Bahama to train the Bahamians, and the captain plans to stay on as a supervisor.
In addition to the tours, the Von Humboldt is also being seen as a possible venue for dinners, cocktail parties and corporate events. The Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce has already signed on to host an evening on the deck, Guardian Business has learned. A kitchen and seating for 50 is below, although Gates said "we have to see how people like it" before aggressively seeking corporate business. The tour executive also reported progress in launching the Air Boat Adventure, similar to what is offered in the Florida Everglades. She said the company hit a few logistical snags, but that tour should come online for April. ATV tours are another project for Grand Bahama Adventure Tours that will soon be added to the menu.
While the company has a capacity of more than 100,000 tourists now, she is targeting 100 percent annual growth to 200,000 guests this year.
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