Local cruise shipping poised to shine - Prospects for 2017 good ... the ships will come sailing in
With a 13 per cent increase in cruise ship passenger arrivals last years, and an additional 105 vessel slated to visit in 2017, local business stakeholders at the various destinations are cautiously optimistic that the increased activity will positively impact their respective economies.
According to data from the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ), a combined total of 514 vessels, with approximately 1.6 million passengers, visited the major cruise ports for the year ending December 2016. The schedule for 2017 is showing that 619 cruise vessels are already booked to dock between Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Falmouth and Port Antonio.
"On the economic side, I am expecting good returns for businesses in Montego Bay," said Gloria Henry, president of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in an interview with The Gleaner yesterday. "Things have started well, and I am expecting a robust and vibrant season."
However, Henry is concerned that with the absence of a marquee attraction in the western city, millions of dollars in potential revenue could be lost to other parishes.
The parish of St Ann is blessed with a raft of tourist attractions and benefits from the lack of options for the more adventurous visitor in the other parishes, but some local businesses are calling for guidelines to be agreed on by stakeholders.
"I agree that we are getting a lot of the visitors in our parish, but the town of Ocho Rios is not benefiting as it should, because the attractions are selling the same things we have to offer, so there is no need for them to even come in the town," said a prominent Ocho Rios businessman. "What we need is an agreement as to what each merchant and operator should offer so that everyone can enjoy a piece of the pie."
However, while agreeing that more can be done, Pixley Irons, president of the Ocho Rios Chamber of Commerce and Industry president, says local businesses are also enjoying the increased activity at the renovated Ocho Rios Cruise Ship Pier.
"Our supermarkets and wholesales are thriving this is evident, especially on Fridays and Saturdays," Irons said. "We are a real cruise destination because it is all our economy depends on. Our locals do benefit."
The Port of Montego Bay, which was voted the Caribbean's leading home port at the recently held World Travel Awards, is slated to receive 253 visits for the new season, 77 more than the 186 vessels for 2016; while Ocho Rios, which welcomed 166 vessels last year, now has a scheduled 199 mega-cruise vessels booked.
There are encouraging signs in Falmouth, home of the New Falmouth Pier, as infrastructural improvement continues in the popular Georgian town, but the chamber's boss, Delroy Christie, believes his membership will only benefit if visitors are encouraged to walk the town.
"The prospects are good for 2017 at present the town is being reformatted, and this is very important if our businesses are going to reap the returns for their investment," said Christie. "The cleanliness of the town is very important, because if we have a clean town, our tourists will want to walk around, and this will mean businesses opportunities for our members."
The Trelawny-based facility will again host 160 cruise ships, but is expected to enjoy the greater volume of passengers, due to its capacity to accommodate the world's largest vessels. In contrast, picturesque Port Antonio can only entertain small vessels and could experience its best season yet, with seven ships booked to visit the north eastern parish.
"We rather to wait and see what really will happen," said Daney-Ann Thomas, president of the Portland Chamber of Commerce and Industry. "We have heard these grand announcements before and even though, there is a shift ... small signs that things might happen this time around, we prefer to wait."
"We are feeling like the bastard child at a family reunion, but our focus is that the town be kept clean and that there is not a repeat of a ship turning back because of the state of the town," added Thomas.