Jamaica’s tourism officials are looking to a ‘plan B’ to revive cruise tourism amid uncertainty over the port project in Grand Cayman.
Cayman’s Caribbean neighbour has seen cruise tourism arrivals drop significantly, despite building a pier in Falmouth in 2011 in partnership with Royal Caribbean to accommodate mega cruise ships.
Jamaica’s tourism minister Edmund Bartlett has highlighted the lack of a port in Cayman as one reason behind the decline.
He suggested that Royal Caribbean would not put its larger ships on the western route unless and until Cayman built a port.
“I have been having very extensive discussions with Royal Caribbean Lines about getting Falmouth back on track, and re-establishing the western Caribbean itinerary that would include Labadee in Haiti and Cayman, on the presumption that Cayman would build a port large enough to accommodate these mega vessels,” he said, in response to questions from the Jamaican media about a 25% annual decline in cruise arrivals.
“The itinerary of Falmouth, Labadee and Cayman would become, arguably, the most lucrative itinerary in the world, and the projections are that more than 2 million visitors would then come to Falmouth on an annual basis,” he said.
Bartlett also revealed that Royal Caribbean was continuing to pay head taxes to the Port Authority based on higher passenger numbers as part of an agreement with the Jamaican government.
Representatives of Verdant Isle Port Partners, the consortium including Royal Caribbean which is bidding to build the cruise berthing facility in Cayman, declined to answer questions on that deal
A spokesperson said the Cayman pier project is “vitally important” to Royal Caribbean and all major cruise brands because the “strategic location” of Cayman means it is essentially the missing link in a number of possible itineraries.
“Cayman will provide an iconic port for Western Caribbean Oasis itineraries out of Galveston,” said an emailed statement in response to questions from the Cayman Compass.
“The addition of Cayman will increase the number of itineraries which deploy to Western Caribbean, and therefore Falmouth will benefit.”
The Ministry of Tourism in Cayman declined to respond to questions about the Jamaica port project and arrival figures in that country.
Jamaican Director of Tourism Donovan White told the Compass that the drop in arrivals in his country was caused by Royal Caribbean moving its Oasis-class ships to other routes.
“They made changes because they opened new ports in places that were off that schedule [the western route], so they moved some of their larger vessels to those schedules,” he said.
Speaking during the Caribbean Travel Marketplace conference in the Bahamas, he said he believed new berthing facilities in Cayman would enable the mega-ships to come back to the western route.
He acknowledged that public opposition to the port in Cayman, with a referendum in the offing, could mean Jamaica has to find a new strategy to bring back cruise tourists.
“We are in constant dialogue with the cruise lines. Plan A included the Cayman port, but we are down the road looking at plan B and C, as well. We continue to have strategic discussions with the cruise lines,” White said.
Mario Rankin, a member of the Cruise Port Referendum Cayman campaign group, said the impasse showed the importance of Cayman to the cruise companies.
He believes if Cayman rejects the port project, the cruise lines will have to come back to the table to discuss tendering the mega-ships, an idea that was proposed in 2011 but discarded.
“They need Cayman to sell those cruises,” he added.
CPR’s Johann Moxam said the comments from Jamaica’s minister of tourism raised questions about what promises had been made to Jamaican officials about the port development in Cayman. He also questioned why Royal Caribbean was paying taxes to Jamaica for ships that were not arriving in the country.
Describing the scheme as “ghost ships”, he questioned whether arrival statistics were being deliberately manipulated to make the case that new facilities were needed in Cayman.
“It feels like the Cayman government is taking instructions from a neighbouring government and Royal Caribbean as to what should be our national priorities because that country needs Cayman to move forward with the proposed CBF [cruise berthing facility] project which will help benefit Jamaica’s interests.”
Neither Royal Caribbean nor government responded to Moxam’s comments or more general questions from the Compass.
Additional reporting by Cayman Compass journalist James Whittaker.