Editorial | When Monarch called on Kingston
Kingston's happenstance hosting on Tuesday of the cruise ship Monarch of the Seas unintentionally accomplished two separate, yet related, important feats.
One is that it went a long way towards dismantling the psychological barrier to embracing the capital as a cruise ship port and, more broadly, as a tourism destination. Second, as if we didn't already understand this, it highlighted the value of good road infrastructure to the national economy, including the tourism sector.
Monarch of the Seas, owned by the Spanish company Pulmantur, which arrived from Cartagena, Colombia, only came to Kingston because it couldn't be accommodated elsewhere in Jamaica. Originally, it should have sailed to Montego Bay, but the berths there were full. So, too, were the piers at the two other cruise ship piers - Ocho Rios and Falmouth.
In the end, the ship's owners, with their nearly 3,000 passengers, were persuaded to give Kingston a chance, thus causing it to become the first cruise vessel to dock in the capital for three years and one of very few in recent decades. Indeed, Kingston has been the victim of its reputation as a hard, gritty place with high levels of crime. This didn't matter too much on Tuesday.
First, Monarch of the Seas, a mega ship, was hosted at the Kingston Wharves, a commercial port, rather than the Victoria Pier, on the waterfront, where smaller vessels used to dock. Perchance it was needed. This enclosed berth made it easier to manage security. Some tourists were bussed from the port to shops and attractions in the capital.
The experiment appears to have gone well and is one, in the view of the chargÈ d'affaires of Spanish embassy in Jamaica, Carmen Rives Ruiz-Tapiador, which should be repeated and expanded.
Having cycled around the capital over the past year, she said: "I truly believe that Kingston has a lot to offer to the world. Jamaica has something amazing that I don't find (elsewhere)."
The security concerns, however, are real. In addressing them, the primary concern must be the safety and well-being of the people who live here. An economically strong Jamaica, to which all sectors, including tourism, contribute, is important to delivering safety and security to all citizens and residents.
Nonetheless, providing special short-term support in Kingston on cruise ship days would, perforce, be delivering the same service to all people in those areas of the capital where the effort is concentrated. Moreover, the value of the economics would be national.
The second point from Monarch of the Seas' docking in Kingston is that those of its passengers who had prebooked visits to attractions on the island's north coast didn't have to miss them. What made the difference was the 67.2 kilometre North-South Highway, owned by the Chinese company, China Harbour Engineering Company and formally opened this year.
Prior to this route, reaching Ocho Rios, a tourist town on the north shore, from Kingston in the south, was a gruelling, two-and-half-hour drive, along a dangerous gorge and, at times, treacherous mountain routes and across a narrow, single-vehicle bridge that formed an important link between Jamaica's two most important economic regions. That journey now takes 45 minutes.
That is not only a case for cruise shipping in Kingston, but of the worth of good infrastructure.