Sat | Jan 18, 2020

Ocho Rios – Rebirth as Jamaica’s cruise shipping capital?

Published:Wednesday | November 27, 2019 | 12:18 AMJanet Silvera - Hospitality Jamaica Coordinator
The new Ocho Rios Fishing Village.
The new Ocho Rios Fishing Village.

With an expected 756,000 visitors calling at its twin ports for the 2019-2020 season, the resort town of Ocho Rios, St Ann, is once again making a strong case for being the cruise shipping capital of Jamaica.

Also, add to this mix the over 20 ships that have called on the town over the past three weeks and the “heavy spending” a number of stakeholders have been reporting, and one can see why the chairman of the National Cruise Council (NCC) and Mayor of St Ann’s Bay, Michael Belnavis, is bragging about what he sees as a cruise shipping “renaissance” for the resort town.

“Ocho Rios will be having the best cruise shipping year of all the ports of call in Jamaica … maybe one of its best years ever,” Belnavis told Hospitality Jamaica, while hardly able to contain his glee.

“You know there was a time, ­before Falmouth getting a cruise port, when Ocho Rios was the number one port in the country. Well, as they say, we have got back that pep in our step and are getting ready to reclaim that mantle.”

Belnavis said that it is no coincidence why Ocho Rios is poised to do so well for the new cruise season, pointing to the hard work, ­including the many anti-­harassment measures that have been put in place, “to prepare us for this moment”.

He is also giving credit to a number of government agencies, including the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) and its subsidiary body, the St Ann Development Company (SADCo), for “the great job of positioning the town as a first-call cruise destination”.

“We can also add the Ministry of Tourism and the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo), as well as the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) and Jamaica Vacations (JAMVAC) and its hard-working executive director, Joy Roberts,” Belnavis added.

The NCC chairman said that while the bulk of the business will be coming from the number two cruise company in the world – Carnival Cruise Lines – Norwegian, MSC, Princess and others will also be well represented.

“These are really exciting times for Ocho Rios,” he added. “It would be remiss of me not to point out the attractions which have been playing their part in making Ocho Rios what it is today.”

“In Dunn’s River Falls, Ocho Rios has one of the most popular and most visited attractions on the planet,” Belnavis further added.

For her part, JAMVAC’s Roberts said Ocho Rios’ turnaround is very significant and speaks volume to the kind of work that has been done in recent times to improve “the aesthetic appeal” and “look and feel” of the town.

According to Roberts, the resort town alone will be seeing over 756,000 visitors for the 2019-2020 cruise shipping season, “Between November 2019 to April 2020, the town should be seeing at least one and sometimes multiple ships per day.”

Roberts further noted that from January to October 2019, Ocho Rios has seen an 11.9 per cent increase in calls and 2.6 per cent in visitor arrivals, representing a passenger count of 450,000.

She added that the MSC Meraviglia, with a maximum capacity of 6,900, inclusive of passengers and crew, will be making an inaugural visit in December 2019.

“The town will also be seeing a number of ships from Carnival Cruise Lines, inclusive of the Carnival Vista, Carnival Horizon, Carnival Sunrise and the Carnival Sensation,” Roberts further noted.

“Let’s not forget that cruise shipping is a major boost for stopover arrivals. The cruise passenger that comes for that one-day visit will be the one coming back next month with his family to stay at a hotel. Treat them nice and they will be back,” Roberts further added.

Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett has been courting the cruise sector heavily since appointing the NCC in 2016. The council, which reflects a partnership between private- and public-sector interests, has been mandated to guide and grow the local cruise economy in a steady and ­sustainable manner.

For his part, Garfield Dussard, owner of Garfield Diving, a watersport operator with cruise-related businesses in Ocho Rios, Falmouth and Montego Bay, said his Ocho Rios operation “has been doing great” since the start of the season.

“We have been seeing numbers we have not seen for a long time,” he noted. “From all indications, we have some very exciting times ahead.”

janet.silvera@gleanerjm.com