WESTERN BUREAU -
JAMAICA will lose an estimated $1 billion annually because of two cruise lines' decision to redeploy several of their vessels from Ocho Rios to other destinations.
The pull-out started last Friday, when Royal Caribbean's "Enchantment of the Seas" made its last call. It is to continue next week when Princess Cruises will be diverting two of its ships elsewhere.
The move has set off a panic button among business interests in the resort town.
"Call it redeploying or whatever fancy spin we want to put on it, the fact is that we are losing ships when we should be adding to our fleets," said Sanju Chatani, owner of the Taj Mahal Plaza in Ocho Rios. "As business owners, we have to wonder if this is the start of a trend or whether there are more bad news on the horizon for us."
The Government will lose an estimated $250 million in head taxes, water and port fees. Additionally, inbond merchants and souvenir store owners say they will lose more than $400 million, while transport operators, restaurant and attraction owners, craft vendors and other local businesses will bear the remainder of the loss which is estimated at $450 million.
William Tatham, general manager in charge of cruise shipping, said that Princess Cruises had indicated earlier that it would be redeploying one of its ships to San Juan Puerto Rico and noted that these kinds of decisions are made from time to time within the industry.
He added that the reason why the Enchantment of the Seas was discontinuing its route to Jamaica was because of the inability of the port to accommodate a change in the itinerary of the cruise line.
Royal Caribbean requested a change from their regular Friday stops to a Thursday," he said. "Having not able to be facilitated, they decided to reroute their vessel elsewhere."
He denied that cruise lines were contemplating pulling out of the island's port because of complaints of harassment from passengers, noting that there were other Caribbean destinations that were more problem plagued than Jamaica.
Mr. Tatham also added that unless it was "some low-level officials," nobody from Royal Caribbean could indicate either having a big problem with Jamaica or about thinking of pulling a vessel.
"We recently had a number of high-level meetings with Royal Caribbean and I can tell you that they want to extend the existing agreement they have with us," Mr. Tatham said. "Actually, we were proposing three years but they in turn said they would love to have an additional year. There is no truth that they or anyone else is thinking of pulling out of Jamaica."
However, Mike Ronan, director of destination for Royal Caribbean, though not attributing the departure of the Enchantment of the Seas to passenger complaints, had a different version.
"While I want to make it clear that the departure of the Enchantment of the Seas is due to the lack of a berthing space, I don't want people to believe that everything is O.K.," he told The Sunday Gleaner in an interview from his Miami office last Wednesday.
"There are some serious problems that will have to be addressed and I don't want an image to be portrayed that everything is going fine because that would not be true."
Mr. Ronan said that Jamaica is either number one or two as far as complaints received from passengers and is a far cry from Grand Cayman which he described as a model destination.
"We have to go by what our passengers are telling us," he said. "Right now they are saying everything is not O.K. so there is no way I can be happy. I don't want it to get into a situation where next year we may have to start pulling a ship or so."