Sat | Dec 10, 2016

MoBay seeks to revive cruise ship business

Published:Saturday | November 29, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Mark Titus, Gleaner Writer

WESTERN BUREAU:Montego Bay, once the undisputed gateway to Jamaica's tourism, is now languishing in the shadows of Falmouth, Trelawny, and Ocho Rios, St Ann; and business interests in the western city are now strategising to revive the glory days.

The hope is that, the ambitious action plan, which was recently formulated by business stakeholders, will serve as the catalyst to reclaim some of the cruise shipping business taken away by the Falmouth and Ocho Rios townships, which are now outshining Montego Bay.

"The Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MBCCI) will be seeking to initiate discussions with the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) to encourage them to do something about the Montego Bay Pier," said prominent Montego Bay businessman Godfrey Dyer, a former president of the MBCCI and a member of the tourism and cruise-shipping committee.

"We will also be calling on the Port Authority to intensify promotions to have more cruise ships calling here in Montego Bay," added Dyer.

In regards to his call for the upgrading of the Montego Bay Pier, which he thinks is key to putting the facility back on a path of growth, while creating the requisite scope to compete with Falmouth and Ocho Rios, Dyer says his committee plans to meet with the new leadership of the PAJ soon.

"It (the Montego Bay Pier) needs to be upgraded ... we have a new head at the PAJ in Professor Gordon Shirley, and we want to see what the plans are for Montego Bay. Meeting with him is our biggest priority at this point," said Dyer. "We believe that Montego Bay still has a lot to offer and we want to get that opportunity to do so."

In 2012, tourism minister, Dr Wykeham McNeill, said the western city needed iconic attractions if it was to rediscover the glory days of cruise shipping.

"The cruise shipping industry is driven by soft adventures," Dr McNeill said. "When people go on cruises, they want stuff to do. Montego Bay needs some more iconic attractions ... a good product is easy to market, but it's not only about marketing the product, it's also about market development."

However, in responding to the claim by the tourism minister, Dyer pointed out that Falmouth, which is the new hub for cruise shipping, does not have any iconic attraction but is still a thriving business.

"Neither does Falmouth," said Dyer, in responding to minister's iconic attractions comment. "They don't have any such facility. The visitors they get have to go to other places for signature attractions. In fact, there is only one signature attraction in Jamaica and that's Dunns River Falls."

Just under four years after a mammoth $400-million expansion and renovation in 2011, the Falmouth Pier notched the World Travel Awards (WTA) for being the Caribbean's Leading Cruise Destination for 2014.

When contacted about Montego Bay's current status as cruise shipping destination, John Byles, a former president of the National Cruise Council of Jamaica and a executive director of Chukka Caribbean, said there was a disconnect between the cruise ships and the walk-off experience in Montego Bay.

"There is a separation between the walk-off experience and where they (passengers) get off at the port. It is disconnected from the Hip Strip and other places that offer that sort of experience," said Byles. "The hop-on, hop-off experience would help tremendously because that would take the people into the town."

With Montego Bay now eyeing a return to the glory days, Byles thinks the western city still has good potential and could yet become a major player once again.

"Montego Bay is still a far nicer port than a lot of other ports they (cruise ships) go to," said Byles. "The real strategic direction to go in is to see if any of the cruise lines would consider developing the port. Nothing drives business in cruise shipping like the supplier having a vested interest in the facility."