Cruising into Kingston
Cruise shipping will return to the Corporate Area tin a big way come December, when a ship carrying 2,700 passengers sails into the Port of Kingston.
Deputy general manager of the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) Robert Stephens last week announced that plans are far advanced to have a cruise ship stop in the Kingston Harbour before Christmas.
"It is going to have around 2,700 passengers, and what we're going to be doing is bringing this back into Kingston Wharves, and the idea is that we can take different tourists to different areas," said Stephens.
"We are going to bring some of the people into Kingston, and some of them will want to (go) into Spanish Town if we have a properly organised tour," added Stephens.
Sites, including the Bob Marley Museum, Devon House, Hope Gardens, and Port Royal have been identified as a few of the attractions that will be recommended to the passengers.
The last time a cruise ship came into Kingston was approximately two years ago, and Stephens is hoping that a home port will be developed in Kingston to eradicate the disadvantages of not having a port where many ships can dock overnight.
"We're going to have different packages that we're going to be offering the passengers. We are partnering with the cruise lines as well as with the people, who are tour operators, bus operators, to put the packages together, and that's what we're doing now. It's going to be around December 6, and it's like a test of our ability to manage and handle tours," said Stephens.
"The majority of our home ports are in Florida or in Puerto and they (ships) are all coming into the Caribbean in the middle of the week because they usually leave on Saturday and Sunday, and sometimes, Friday. They don't reach ports in Jamaica until Tuesday, Wednesday (and) Thursday. Those are the three big days."
Stephens continued: "At some point, you have all your ports taken up. There are no berths (space on the docks). What we're finding is that they are now looking for new berths and they are looking for new ports, so that is why Kingston is coming up on the radar.
"Where we are going in the long term is that we want to develop a home port in Kingston, and the idea is that if you have a home port, the cruise ships will leave from Jamaica and go around the Caribbean so they don't have to use US ports."
The UDC deputy general manager highlighted a number of economic benefits for Jamaica if this idea is realised. He said that one of the advantages is that there are many countries that are not required to obtain a Jamaican visa to enter the island, and this ultimately, will attract more people from all over the world.
"South America, the Far East, Europe, open up to a greater extent so you can see the possibilities for the growth and development there. The other thing with a home port is that you have to satisfy the needs of the ships. You have to have oil on board, food on board.
"This means more economic opportunity for Jamaica, more jobs, and more development. The idea is that this is where we want to go, and our thinking now is that the best location for that is in Kingston, beside the Norman Manley Airport, so that the old airport runway can be used as a cruise ship port."
According to Stephens, strong linkages will need to be forged in order to ensure a very successful home port if it is established.
"If you are developing a home port, you need to have linkages. You have to have attractions, so Portmore, Spanish Town, downtown Kingston have got to be developed. If you look also at the question of hotel rooms, we currently have about 1,500 to 1,600 rooms in Kingston.
"We have Oceana Hotel that is, hopefully, going to be back in operation. That's another 200 rooms. You also have Wyndham that is being refurbished.
"What is happening there will add another few hundred rooms, so you maybe get up to 2,000 rooms. What we need is another 2,000 rooms, minimum, if you are going to home port.
"Making a decision to home port in Kingston means that not only do the linkages have to be in place, but you also need another 2,000 hotel rooms. That's big investment. What we are looking at are major investors who are going to invest in Jamaica in terms of the long-term future and the development of a major home port in Kingston,î said Stephens.
With the United States resuming diplomatic relations with Cuba, the reality is that many cruise ship passengers will now want to visit that island, and Jamaica, being so geographically close to Cuba, the country could get a windfall by the reopening of cruise shipping on a serious basis in Kingston.