Dionne Rose, Staff Reporter
Edmund Bartlett, minister of tourism, has come out swinging against comments made by Opposition Spokesman on Tourism Dr Wykeham McNeill that the opening of the Falmouth cruise-ship pier could see significant fall-off at the ports of Ocho Rios and Montego Bay.
Bartlett, who is in Europe having discussions with various cruise-shipping entities to make Montego Bay a home port for vessels out of Europe, was responding to Friday's Financial Gleaner report where McNeill warned the Government to improve the ports and put the necessary infrastructure in place to mitigate the possible fall-off in passengers to these ports.
But in a release from the Office of the Prime Minister, Bartlett described McNeill's statement as "political and hypocritical", noting that he was tourism minister under the administration that devised the project.
McNeill made the comments on Tuesday at the Stocks and Securities Limited's investor forum at the Terra Nova All-Suite Hotel in St Andrew, where he was one of the speakers addressing the topic 'Falmouth Cruise-Ship Pier - Visitor Numbers and the Impact on the Respective Port Towns'.
Bartlett said the comments serve no useful purpose at this time and are designed to divide communities and bring negative attention to the project, which is aimed at increasing Jamaica's capacity and reputation as a cruise destination.
"We are implementing a project that was conceived under an administration in which Dr McNeill was a tourism minister. Was he not aware of this when they were doing due diligence and planning the development? I find the comments not only disingenuous, but hypocritical and self-serving," the minister was quoted as saying.
"What I would hope to hear is some kind of marketing proposal on how we can further develop cruise shipping in Jamaica so that none of the ports suffer and the sector may contribute more significantly to growth within the tourism sector."
Bartlett also said the Government was looking to build on the diversification of the sector whereby European tourists would be able to spend a week in a hotel in Jamaica and spend another week on a Caribbean cruise.
He also said that the Port Authority was in discussion with Carnival Cruise Lines regarding development plans for Ocho Rios and Montego Bay, and the minister of transport and Jam Railway were actively pursuing the redevelopment of the Montego Bay to Appleton lines to connect the Appleton Attraction.
"We are working on increasing the number of arrivals into Montego Bay and Ocho Rios while improving those facilities so that Jamaica will be, beyond doubt, the leading cruise destination in the region," he said.
McNeill had projected that with the advent of the Falmouth cruise pier, Ocho Rios and Montego Bay could suffer a loss of 30 to 50 per cent of what they are used to getting in cruise-ship passengers.
He said this year, it is projected that Ocho Rios could get 490,000 visitors, down from a high of 800,000 in 2006.
Falmouth is projected to attract 430,000 visitors and Montego Bay 268,000 passenger visitors.