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EDITORIAL - Safeguard fragile cruise industry

Published:Saturday | May 26, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Prospects of new cruise lines calling on Jamaican ports in the near future would be a fillip for the island in the highly competitive global cruise-ship business.

News that the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) is attempting to woo Disney and Norwegian cruise lines could give hope of successfully ushering in the kind of economic stimulus which has been absent in the current era of bad economic news.

William Tatham, vice-president of cruise shipping and marine operations at the Authority, has described as encouraging recent discussions with three Disney executives who were in the island to view cruise-shipping facilities in Falmouth, Ocho Rios and Montego Bay.

If the fantasy creator Disney were to give the thumbs up to Jamaica, it would be a ringing endorsement for the island as a family-friendly destination. Tatham reported that the Disney executives were impressed with Falmouth.

A spanking new pier opened in the Trelawny capital in 2010. This multimillion-dollar investment by the PAJ and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines Ltd has vastly improved Jamaica's profile as a cruise destination, and the numbers are there to prove it, with the island receiving some 1.14 million cruise passengers in 2011, which is said to be the highest in four years. PAJ data indicate that nearly half of those visitors were received at Falmouth.

Growing popularity

The size of new megaliners is a symbol of the burgeoning cruise market, which is projected to achieve passenger loads of 20 million this year. There are more than 230 cruise ships operating worldwide, and some now have cabins that are more than 2,000 square feet.

Cruising has become an extremely popular activity, especially among families, as the marketers continue to go after new segments of the travel market. And even though these elaborate vessels are equipped with a multitude of on-board attractions, passengers still look to shore excursions to enrich their vacation experience.

They do add some economic benefit, including taxes, as well as money spent in communities in and around the docks. Some visitors eat at restaurants, shop at stores and visit attractions as they attempt to sample the local offerings. This means that communities and municipalities have to play their part in ensuring that the environment is safe and appealing to the visitors.

Environmentalists have been strident in their criticism of cruise lines for their spotty environmental record and the impact of their discharges on the environment. To its credit, the Disney line has earned a fair assessment in the Environmental Report Card prepared by the environmental group Friends of the Earth for improving its record, moving from an F in 2009 to a C in 2010.

Cruise shipping has been the fastest-growing sector of the tourism industry over the past two decades. Jamaica now stands above previous star performers such as St Maarten and Antigua & Barbuda, even though they grew by double digits last year. But as we know, this is a very fragile industry. Fears about crime and violence or even bad weather could turn this all around in a very short time.

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