Dionne Rose, Business Reporter
Operators of Dolphin Cove are reporting progress on another, more expansive, marine attraction being developed on a 23-acre spread along the coast in Lucea, Hanover.
The new facility will be ready for customers in June or July in time for the summer tourism traffic, managing director Stafford Burrowes, told the Financial Gleaner.
Burrowes is pumping US$6 million (J$540 million) into the first phase of the Lucea development.
The project, which took about four years to launch, is now double the originally estimated cost, Burrowes said.
Construction began in 2009 with coastal modification of the area to accommodate the dolphins and other sea creatures, one year after the permits were granted.
Burrowes said some of the delay was deliberate, to wait out the global recession. The financial crisis not only put the squeeze on credit while driving up the cost of debt financing, but also dampened the travel trade on which tourism-dependent economies like Jamaica rely.
"When it (the permits) came, the world was coming to an end," he said, making reference to the global economic downturn. "Although the recession is still not over, our tourism product is very strong and that encouraged us to begin."
The proposed marine attraction will be located east of the Spanish-owned Fiesta Hotel. The facility will be managed by Delloy Peharrie who is now the manager for the Half Moon Dolphin Lagoon.
Burrowes said the first phase would replicate the operations in Ocho Rios, offering opportunities to swim with six dolphins, interactive sessions with 15-20 stingrays, and five sharks on show.
The second phase will incorporate camels and crocodiles, water slides and a tropical lazy river.
Burrowes said his partnership with Dr David Nathanson, who runs a practice offering Dolphin Human Therapy, will come on-stream in the second phase, due to be completed by the summer of 2011.
Burrowes hopes to attract between 150,000 and 200,000 visitors per year to Lucea, comparable to the 200,000 he says streams through the gates at Ocho Rios. He said the selling point for the attraction is that it will be much closer to the hotels in Negril and surrounding areas.
"It will be 35 to 40 minutes from Negril and a lot more convenient for cruise ship, as it will be 25 minutes from the ports," he said. "We always figured that the West needed a bigger attraction, we have had complaints about that. We will be providing that attraction, which has long been overdue."
The 23-acre Lucea property was acquired from the National Housing Trust but Burrowes refused to say how much he paid for it. PanCaribbeanBank is financing the project.
Turning to the Ocho Rios operations, he said this has been doing well despite the recession.
"It has remained one of the most popular things that people seem to enjoy - swimming with the dolphins," he said.
Burrowes' business is heavily dependent on a robust tourism sector, including cruise arrivals, from which attractions feed.
Last year, January to December 2009, cruise visits dropped off by 15.6 per cent, from 1.09 million to 922,349, but stopover arrivals were up 3.6 per cent to 1.83 million tourists.
Cumulatively, the sector underperformed calendar year 2008 - falling 3.7 per cent from 2.86 million to 2.75 million. The trend for both segments continued into January.
The result: flat receipts.
"We had to discount our prices … but our land-based arrivals went up five to six per cent over last year," said Burrowes.
"In terms of revenue, it was tight, with us turning around about the same as the previous year."