Paradise lost: Is it the end of White Bay as we know it?
This past weekend, there was a startling development at White Bay, Jost Van Dyke – a cherished destination among charter crews in the BVI. Known for its pristine beaches and iconic shoreline bars, White Bay stands at a potential turning point.
Salt Life Adventure Sports celebrated its grand opening at Gertrude’s Beach Bar, located right next to the famed Soggy Dollar. The event introduced jet skis, banana boat rides, and ATV excursions — a stark contrast to the tranquil haven we've come to adore.
This shift could permanently alter White Bay's character, transforming a serene sailor's paradise into a bustling tourist trap overrun by cruise ship excursions.
It raises a crucial question: Are we witnessing the end of White Bay as we know it?
The rising tide of cruise ship tourism in the BVI
The catalyst behind these changes at White Bay seems to lie squarely with the cruise ship industry. The economic allure for the BVI government is significant, with reports suggesting a fee of around $7 per cruise ship visitor. This revenue stream inevitably influences local policy and development choices, at the expense of the yacht charter industry, the BVI’s cultural identity, and its environmental sustainability.
According to Cruise Hive, the numbers paint a telling picture. After a post-Covid rebound to approximately 70,000 visitors in 2021, the BVI saw a surge to 260,000 in 2022. By August 2023, the count had already reached 500,000, with projections nearing a record-breaking 800,000 by the end of 2023.
This sharp increase signifies more than just a rebound. It represents a deliberate shift in the BVI's tourism strategy. The focus is increasingly on catering to cruise ship passengers, a sector that offers formidable growth potential and financial incentives for the government – growth the charter industry couldn’t possibly keep up with.
Navigating the future of White Bay
This grand opening is a significant marker of change, not just a standalone event. It signifies a shift in the excursion operators' strategy, who are now looking beyond traditional hotspots like the Baths and Cane Garden Bay. They need new ways to entertain the swelling numbers of cruise ship visitors.
Also, consider the case of jet skis, which have traditionally been restricted in the BVI. Their presence at White Bay, even if just for the opening event, sets a concerning precedent. It deviates from established policy and raises safety concerns for yacht charter crews who often swim ashore at White Bay. While immediate alarm may not be necessary - the full impact of Salt Life's opening weekend at White Bay is still unclear - it's a trend charterers can't ignore.
As the situation evolves, it may become necessary for charter crews to keep a closer eye on the cruise ship schedule, similar to strategy adjustments made for visiting the Baths, where a recent rule change was implemented to handle cruise ship visitor congestion.
When cruise ships are docked, it might be wise to steer clear of White Bay.
To me, this development is extremely disheartening and it begs the question: is BVI still 'Nature's Little Secret'?
Explore these related articles from the Yacht Warriors