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Cruise tourism sets record - Port Authority expects harbour projects to boost business in 2018

Published:Monday | January 8, 2018 | 12:00 AMAvia Collinder
A Royal Caribeban cruise ship docked in Jamaica. Business diverted from storm-hit ports last year helped push Jamaica's cruise tourist arrivals to 1.92m in 2017.

Jamaica's cruise tourism market is expected at the very least to match last year's unexpected performance, but there is hope that the number of visitors could edge even closer two million passengers if current growth trajectories are maintained.

The Port Authority of Jamaica, which manages the cruise ports, is executing berth upgrades and dredging projects to accommodate larger ships, initiatives that William Tatham says should help to boost the numbers.

The Reynolds pier upgrade in Ocho Rios is to wrap up in February, while a dredging project at the Falmouth port will get under way some time this year, said Tatham, the Port Authority's vice-president of cruise shipping and marina operations.

Last year, cruise passenger visits were tallied at 1.92 million, up 11 per cent from 1.65 million in 2016. Tourism ministry data indicates that spending per visitor ticked up to US$91.67, from US$90.24 in the same time frame.

"2017 was another record year for cruise arrivals in Jamaica. We were able to secure some additional business in the latter part of the year due to the damage to some of the ports in the Eastern Caribbean," said Tatham.

He notes, however, that earnings per cruise visitor are usually in the region of US$100, and that the Government would be encouraging ships to stay longer in port so that passengers can have more time to shop and tour.

Spending generally includes port fees, taxis and ground transportation services, attractions, duty free shopping, craft and souvenirs, and food and beverage.

Ministry of Tourism data provided by senior adviser and strategist Delano Seiveright indicates that gross earnings from cruise passenger spend in 2017 was US$179 million, up 19 per cent from US$150 million in 2016.

But as for their expectations of what the cruise market will deliver in 2018, Seiveright said the ministry was still crunching those numbers.

Tatham, however, says the Port Authority is "projecting similar numbers to 2017 [1.92 million], which was over our initial projections, because of the extra vessels we received. So in the region of two million again would be acceptable".

The works at the Reynolds pier, costing US$22 million, is meant to transform it into a "best-in-class mixed-use facility for cruise operations and industrial cargo". It includes construction of a modern cruise berth, ground transportation facilities, and a promenade connecting the facility to the port town of Ocho Rios.

That project is twinned with the rehabilitation of the Ocho Rios Fishing Village for US$4.5 million into a modern complex for food, entertainment and vending.

The port project in Falmouth, Trelawny, will involve dredging of the southern berth.

"This is due to start and finish in 2018, and once complete, the facility will be able to dock two Oasis-class vessels at the same time," said Tatham. Oasis is the largest class of cruise vessels in the world.

The Port Authority said the dredging of the Falmouth port would cost US$3 million, but it also provided a list of other projects to be executed in that town, namely the Hampden Wharf upgrade and restoration - US$8.5 million; Falmouth market - US$2.6 million; Market Street landscaping - US$550,000; Seaboard Street improvements - US$350,000; and Tharpe Street improvements - US$850,000.

Seiveright said the Ministry of Tourism itself is hoping to lure cruise business to other ports, including Port Antonio, which it is pitching as "an uncrowded and rustic option for smaller vessels".

"We have been doing very well with cruises into Port Antonio and also encouraging ships into Kingston whenever possible ... . It's part of an overall strategy to spread cruise business around the island and not limit it to the main north-coast resort areas," he told the Financial Gleaner.

Port Antonio had one cruise call in November and three in December.