Editorial: Ocho Rios pier making waves
The multimillion-dollar refurbishment of the Ocho Rios cruise ship pier has started to pay dividends with the facility winning the World Travel Awards (WTA) after being lauded as the Caribbean's Leading Cruise Destination for 2014.
It was not so long ago that visitors to Ocho Rios issued scathing reviews of the pier and environs. Some of the comments on the Internet travel site Tripadvisor.com included these: "People grab at you as soon as you are off the boat ... city surrounding cruise port is squalid. Hardcore panhandling is rampant." "We walked off the boat and immediately we got hounded by people selling stuff we continued up the road and people continued to try and sell us junk and weed."
These accounts were recorded in 2011, so it is quite a turnaround that four years later, Ocho Rios is now celebrating its status as the leading Caribbean destination for cruise tourists. Why is it a big thing? one may ask. The cruise business is flourishing and highly competitive, so rankings help to point passengers to available options. Hopefully, this banner will lure many visitors our way.
With the spanking new pier in Falmouth, some business was diverted from Ocho Rios, and it seemed like the destination was dying a slow death. It took a $400-million upgrade of the terminal and sprucing up of the adjoining facilities by the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment to get Ocho Rios back to its former glory.
Ocho Rios' resuscitation and potential for growth should not be feared by other local ports. It seems that, if Jamaica makes itself attractive, there are more than enough visitors to keep all our ports busy. It is estimated that nearly 22 million persons would have taken a cruise in 2014, up from 15 million in 2010. With this being a US$36-billion industry, there is still a lot of untapped potential as cruises become more popular among holidaymakers. Added to that, more than a third of all cruise itineraries include Caribbean ports.
In addition to the Ocho Rios pier, Jamaica picked up four other awards, including Caribbean's Leading Tourist Board, and Caribbean's Leading Heritage Attraction.
But who will ensure that the Ocho Rios pier remains number one? Refurbishment is one thing, but sustainability is altogether another demanding task. Haggling and harassment of tourists benefit no one, least of all the persons who are seeking to earn a livelihood from that sector.
While the Ministry of Tourism can be depended on to shell out the people's dollars for refurbishment, stakeholders have a huge responsibility to ensure that the product is protected from those who would seek to give Jamaica a bad name. The police have a mammoth task to rid our streets of hustlers.
Each location has to strive to outshine its competitors with exemplary service and innovative shore excursions.
All eyes are on the tourism sector, with predicted growth in both cruise-ship and hotel passengers next year. Success will largely depend on innovation, how we safeguard the gains we have made, and how we protect the product.