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News of Falmouth, Jamaica’s decline is premature

From Travel Pulse

Is one of the Caribbean’s busiest and most successful cruise ports losing major cruise ship calls?

The answer depends in part on whom you ask.

The question emerged this week after Colin Gager, Falmouth, Jamaica’s mayor, claimed in local press reports that three Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. ships—which he said collectively bring 10,000 travelers per visit to the port—were ending their calls.

Gager said the move would cost Falmouth nearly $40,000 a month.

The Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas, as well as one ship from Royal Caribbean’s Celebrity Cruises brand, will end their calls at the port said Gager, with cruise-line officials citing “concerns over tourist harassment and other issues” according to a Jamaica Gleaner report.

Yet Gager’s concerns now appear to have been a hasty reaction to a routine Royal Caribbean deployment shift.

A Royal Caribbean spokesman said this week the company is “still committed” to Falmouth, with Allure of the Seas scheduled to continue calls at the port in 2017 and 2018.

However Royal Caribbean will reduce Allure of the Seas’ Falmouth calls during the 2018-19 season, a plan established earlier this year to offer travelers “a greater variety” of Caribbean itineraries, the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, the other ships to which Gager apparently referred are not departing from Falmouth. Royal Caribbean’s 5,535-passenger Symphony of the Seas, which will enter service in the spring of 2018, was not scheduled to include Falmouth on its upcoming Caribbean itineraries, Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) officials confirmed this week.

In addition, Celebrity Cruises, an RCCL brand, was late in making Falmouth berthing reservations for one of its ships. The berth was instead designated for Princess Cruises, PAJ officials said.

Thus, rather than a “pull out” of three ships, the Falmouth port will actually face reduced deployment from one vessel. PAJ officials added that, while Allure of the Seas’ reduced 2018-2019 schedule will cost the port some passengers and proceeds, the decline is consistent with the port’s reduced summer schedule—when calls decline 40 percent compared with the winter.

The Falmouth port call confusion in part reflects the increasingly high regard Caribbean destinations and tourism stakeholders have for cruise ship traffic.

The Falmouth port opened in 2011 via a partnership between the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Jamaica already had cruise ports in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios when Falmouth opened, but the new port quickly became the island’s top-drawing facility—capable of accommodating Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class ships, the cruise industry’s largest.

Cruise lines have also partnered with destinations to finance port developments in the Dominican Republic, Honduras and the Turks & Caicos (Carnival Corp.), Belize (Norwegian Cruise Line) and the Bahamas (MSC Cruises).

The developments follow years during which cruise lines mainly resisted investing in Caribbean cruise infrastructure despite the fact that the region was (and remains) the cruise lines’ primary deployment region.

I can recall a mid-1990s Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) conference at which a Caribbean tourism official asked a top cruise executive if the lines would ever consider investing in port infrastructure.

The cruise official responded by saying (I’m paraphrasing here), “We send our ships to your destinations. That’s our investment.”

Meanwhile Caribbean tourism stakeholders—led by chiefly by hoteliers—complained that cruise lines used local resources but left little else behind once their passengers embarked for the next port.

Some of that sentiment undoubtedly remains. In 2014, I listened as a leading Caribbean hotelier said during a ceremony that Caribbean governments should focus tourism resources on hotels at the expense of cruise lines, which “we all know contribute nothing to the economies of the Caribbean.”

PHOTO: Details are murky regarding Falmouth, Jamaica’s status as a cruise ship port of call. (photo by Brian Major)

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