News that cruise giant Royal Caribbean has pulled Jamaica’s purpose-built port at Falmouth from multiple vacation itineraries has sparked concern about proposals for a new dock in Grand Cayman.
One of the key principles of the long-discussed plan to build new cruise berthing facilities in George Town harbor has been to secure cruise line involvement in the hope that this would guarantee passenger numbers.
However, Royal Caribbean’s significant financial investment in the Falmouth port does not appear to have stopped it from pulling some of its ships from the port, the Jamaica Gleaner reported Friday.
Citing Falmouth’s Mayor Colin Gager, the newspaper reported that three ships, including the Oasis class Allure of The Seas, would be taking their businesses elsewhere for the coming season and next year. Mr. Gager told the Gleaner the cruise lines are concerned about harassment of visitors, among other issues.
Jamaica’s Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett suggested in a different news report that the issue affected only the Allure of the Seas and Royal Caribbean’s new vessel, Symphony of the Seas.
Robert Hamaty, owner of Tortuga Rum in Cayman, which also has a store at the Falmouth Port, said the development was concerning but should not prevent Cayman from pushing ahead with plans for its own dock.
“It is very sad as Royal Caribbean and the Jamaica government invested into the port,” he said.
“I am told the customer experience is not good. Passengers are not happy and feel they are being harassed. There is no major crime against cruise passengers, it is just people trying to make a living. There is a lot of poverty and people see the port as a way to make some money. Unfortunately, that has spilled over into some harassment of passengers.”
He said he believed the reason for Royal Caribbean to move its largest ships out of Falmouth temporarily was also an economic decision and argued that a major port in Cayman would be a win-win for the country and the cruise line.
“These ships are expensive to run and they need to maximize their profits. Every week, one of the big Genesis-class ships travels from Cozumel to Falmouth long distance. An intermediate stop in Cayman would add lots of value to that itinerary,” he added.
He said it was incumbent on authorities in Cayman to ensure that cruise passengers here did not face the kind of harassment that caused concern in Falmouth.
Johann Moxam, a former Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce president, said the situation in Falmouth should serve as a warning that a deal with the cruise lines is no guarantee of a long-term commitment to the Cayman Islands.
“Before the government commits the citizens and businesses of this country to hundreds of millions of dollars in public debt, we should pause and re-evaluate whether perceived benefits of mass cruise tourism are truly worth the costs and worth the risks to this and future generations. [Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.’s] withdrawal proves that we cannot take comfort in a cruise line guarantee as the basis of the revenue model,” he said.
“We would be foolish to proceed with this project without a careful examination of the risks to the country and more importantly, what process have we used to determine that mass cruise tourism is worth this investment and is the top priority for the economy.”