Editorial | The case for Port Royal
Port Royal, with a unique and fascinating story to share with the rest of the world, has never lived up to its true potential.
Indeed, the people of Port Royal have heard repeatedly from the mouths of officials why their community's rich history represents a potentially important economic benefit for them and the country.
For more than a quarter of a century, there has been talk about developing this archaeological site into a major attraction, drawing comparisons with Disneyland in Orlando, Florida. Successive governments have made grand announcements of development projects with no discernible follow-up action.
The enthusiasm of people like Robert Stephens and other minority private-sector shareholders in the Port Royal Development Company (PRDC) has reportedly waned because of the abundance of red tape.
The PRDC, which is partnering with Government, presented a five-year plan that calls for an investment of US$500 million to create a cruise ship pier, tackle infrastructure upgrading, and restore historic sites.
In a plaintive cry earlier this year, Stephens wrote a letter to the editor in which he said, "We have potential investors but we cannot get beyond the Jamaica National Heritage Trust, the UDC and the Development Bank of Jamaica ... ."
So the announcement by the Port Authority of Jamaica that it is investing J$1 billion in a floating pier for cruise ships may at last signal tangible hope for the people of this former haven of pirates. The announcement came on the heels of information that negotiations are under way between the tourism ministry and a German cruise line to offer Port Royal as a viable option for sightseeing.
Additionally, the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) is undertaking rehabilitation work on sites like the Naval Hospital and the Museum, as well as infrastructure work elsewhere.
Jamaica's natural beauty and pleasant weather are the magnets that have turned tourism into an important economic driver, and even though the entire country may be seen as a destination, there are often complaints that there are not enough attractions to sustain visitor interest.
EXPLORATION AND LEARNING
The development of Port Royal will cater to visitors who are interested in exploration and learning about the shifting cards of history and who may want to discover why scores of locals flock this town to savour its culinary delights.
With these financial commitments to Port Royal's development, there is now the urgent need to educate the people of this normally quiet fishing village on how they can play a part in conserving, protecting and managing their assets. They may also need help in accessing financial resources and developing human capacity to take advantages of the opportunities that will accompany the development.
The UN World Tourism Organization defines sustainable tourism as an enterprise that achieves a balance between the environment, economic and sociocultural aspects of tourism development so as to guarantee long-term benefits to recipient communities.
It was, therefore, refreshing to hear the Port Authority CEO, Professor Gordon Shirley, report that the floating pier is being considered with the environment in mind as it will not require dredging or putting into piles which may harm the mangroves.
We hope that the Port Authority and allied agencies have learnt valuable lessons from the operations in other cruise ship towns and will, therefore, understand how to best harness the power of tourism and place Port Royal on the correct path of sustainable development to be enjoyed by generations to come.