Examining cruise opportunities in Jamaica

Sean Dudley talks to William Tatham of the Port Authority of Jamaica to find out how the country is working to advance its reputation as one of the Caribbean must-see destinations

Examining cruise opportunities in Jamaica
This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

Jamaica is high on the list of places many people would love to visit. But while the mind’s eye pictures beautiful beaches and vibrant resorts, there are many people that work behind the scenes to ensure that the visitors to the island have an enjoyable and memorable time.

One such person is William Tatham of the Port Authority of Jamaica. As vice president of cruise shipping and marina operations, Tatham works with the numerous cruise ports on the island to help enhance their respective offerings and meet the expectations of visitors.

Work is currently being carried out at three of the island’s major north coast ports – Montego Bay, Falmouth and Ocho Rios. And following the recent visit of Pullmantur’s Monarch to the capital city Kingston – the largest cruise ship ever to visit Jamaica – Tatham is seeing an opportunity to expand cruise business on the island.

“Monarch was extremely well received,” Tatham says. “There was so much buzz in the capital, because many people had never seen a ship of this size. It created a lot of excitement around cruising, and we believe this has brought about a significant opportunity.”

Historically, the majority of cruise visits to Jamaica have been to the island’s northern coast. But following the visit of Monarch to Kingston, Tatham is keen to see what can be done to spread the cruise business across all parts of the country. A new cross-island highway has also recently been completed, which will make it significantly easier for visitors to Jamaica to see more of the island – regardless of where they first land.

“We believe there’s an opportunity around Kingston,” he says. “There are museums, the home of Bob Marley, interesting areas such as the village of Port Royal on the Palisadoes peninsula, which protects Kingston Harbour. We believe that Monarch’s visit went well and we learned a lot from that experience. Kingston is a different kind of operation, but we think it’s only going to get stronger and the offering will get better. We’re very optimistic that we’ll be able to do even better when any other interest that comes our way.”

Jamaica has long been an established cruise destination, and has invested more heavily in the homeporting side of things in recent times. 2016-17 saw the island enjoy its most successful homeporting season to date, playing host to seven ships.

“For 2017-18, we’ll again have seven homeports,” Tatham says. “The same companies will homeport with us again, with the only change being that Thomson will be upgrading their vessel to the TUI Discovery. That will bring an additional 500 passengers, and will have a positive impact on the port and the country as a whole, as TUI also does land-based vacations.”

Some enhancements to existing port facilities are now taking place to cope with growth in this area. At Montego Bay, upgrades to the main terminal are ongoing, where an increased cruise capacity of around 40% will be eventually achieved.

“That’s being done specifically to deal with homeporting – things like luggage, seating, all sorts of support that has to be in place – and it’s going well,” says Tatham. “At our second terminal at Montego Bay, we took a section of the cargo terminal and upgraded that for cruising. We took about 40% of our existing cargo terminal, enclosed that, and converted it into a fully dedicated cruise terminal.”

Tatham confirms that for the 2017-18 winter season there are plans to take the remainder of the cargo terminal at Montego Bay to create an even more spacious cruise terminal. A new cargo terminal will be built elsewhere on the port.

At Ocho Rios, the development of what was previously the town’s fisherman’s village is now underway. This once rundown area between the two terminals will become a great location for locals and tourists alike, according to Tatham, where people can get fresh sea food, and shop for souvenirs.

“We will also begin the upgrades to the Reynolds Pier – a multipurpose pier in Ocho Rios – in May 2017 after the end of the season,” he adds. “That will be significant work and will help accommodate the Getaway class from Norwegian Cruise Line and the Royal class from Princess Cruises. Our engineers consulted with Princess and Norwegian to ensure their needs will be met, and that pier will be ready to take these larger vessels for the next winter season.”

At Falmouth, development plans for the area around the original Hampden Wharves are progressing, with a view to offering visitors retail, entertainment, food and beverage, and an artisan village. “Guests will be able to buy unique works of art and meet the artists,” says Tatham. “That goes into development within the next three months, and at least part of that will be open for next winter.”

Cuba’s emergence as a cruising destination is also benefitting its Caribbean neighbours in Jamaica.

“We see Cuba as being very important, and the two countries are important to one another,” Tatham says. “Many of these homeports are calling at Cuba, and that’s a great example of how Cuba benefits Jamaica. We have a boutique port in Port Antonio, and that goes very well with the Cuban port of Santiago de Cuba. It’s usually packaged up that way, and many boutique cruise lines are now calling at Cuba and are looking to go into those hidden harbours that the country has to offer. We believe that lends itself naturally to Port Antonio as well.”

Tatham believes that both Cuba and Jamaica’s South coast present exciting opportunities for the future. “We will be looking to maximise these where we can to the benefit of the island,” he concludes. “At places like Port Royal and Kingston, people have a cultural interest in that part of Jamaica. But we’re not going to do anything that would disrupt or undermine our existing north coast destinations.”

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