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Cruise arrivals ‘normalise’ after gains in storm year

Published:Tuesday | November 27, 2018 | 12:00 AMAvia Collinder/ Business Reporter
PIOJ Senior Director for Economic Planning and Research, James Stewart.

The latest numbers, at first blush, appear to reflect a substantial fall-off in cruise passenger arrival numbers in the July to September quarter, but the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) says they should really be read as a normalisation of the sector's performance relative to 2016.

The PIOJ had reported that cruise passenger arrivals declined by 16.3 per cent to 294,182 persons, and that the declines were seen at all major ports of call.

The agency reported that the number of cruise visitors to Ocho Rios was down 4.8 per cent year-over-year to 98,084 passengers; Montego Bay was down 3.0 per cent to 91,287 passengers, and Falmouth, down 32.2 per cent to 104,811 passengers.

But now, the agency is clarifying that Jamaica was the beneficiary of one-off business last year, which skewed the numbers.

"Recall that in 2017, Jamaica benefited from the diversion of cruise ships from other regional destinations as a result of an active hurricane season impacting those islands. As a result, the cruise arrival figures for Jamaica, particularly for September-December 2017, were unusually high," James Stewart, director of economic planning and research at the state planning agency, told the Financial Gleaner.

In 2017, some 68 ships were reportedly diverted to Falmouth because of hurricane impact in the east and the Florida Keys. For the full year, Jamaica recorded an 11 per cent spike in cruise arrivals, from 1.65 million to 1.92 million.

"The current performance reflects a return to trend performance, and this anomaly is likely to continue throughout the October-December 2018 quarter," the economic planner said.

Port Authority of Jamaica officials also said the island secured additional business in the latter part of the year due to the damage to some of the ports in the Eastern Caribbean.

Gross earnings from annual cruise passenger spend in 2017 rose 19 per cent, from US$150 million to US$179 million, according to Ministry of Tourism data.

"The cruise sector is poised to have an excellent year despite the marginal drop in arrivals in the last few months compared to a super-record year last year," said Delano Seiveright, senior adviser in the tourism ministry.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Line has adjusted its itineraries in the Caribbean, and has reduced its ship calls to Falmouth, but Seiveright maintained his bullish outlook on the sector, saying, "Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian cruise lines have all committed to having some of their biggest ships calling at Falmouth, Ocho Rios and Montego Bay," while asserting that the commitments solidify Jamaica "as a first-choice cruise destination".

The technocrat also noted that "as a precursor of what's to come," Carnival Cruise Line's newest ship, Carnival Horizon, made its maiden voyage to Jamaica in October. The ship, which has the capacity for 4,700 passengers and 1,450 crew, will call on Ocho Rios every other week.