Pay attention to home-porting, cruise industry officials urged

Pay attention to home-porting, cruise industry officials urged

Senior staff reporter

Monday, October 05, 2020

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With no clear timeline for cruise operations to start again, key industry players say Jamaica should, among other things, pay more attention to home-porting arrangements given its distinct advantage of having the most cruise ports in the English-speaking Caribbean.

Home-porting is when a ship uses a port/marine terminal as its home, regardless of its port of registry. This allows passengers to begin/terminate a cruise in the home port and positively impacts ground transportation and tours. Passengers may also fly into the island to board vessels. Jamaicans booking cruises on home-ported ships will also have the advantage of boarding here as opposed to flying to another location to do so.

“Home-porting is something we need to examine very carefully. When you have home-porting if you look at the goods and services transported from elsewhere to go onboard the vessels, you would be shocked to realise that there are some bananas and papaya that are less than our standards, those things in my view were substandard and I think our destination could provide those things right at the port where they are home-porting,” Dr Lee Bailey, CEO of Caribbean Cruise Shipping and Tours Limited and a director of the Jamaica Cruise Council, told an online public forum hosted by the Mona School of Business and Management on cruise shipping and tourism in the Caribbean Wednesday night.

Dr Bailey, who said there were opportunities for immediate action and post-pandemic execution, said of the island's five cruise port facilities, three are most suited for home-porting.

Port Antonio can only take boutique ships, large luxury yachts and has a limited carrying capacity but can also handle turnaround ships and home-porting apart from one disadvantage, its distance from the airport. The Falmouth pier is currently the largest cruise facility in the island, which can carry all kinds of ships, has a massive carrying capacity and can also handle turnaround ships and home-porting as well as regular cruise calls.

The Montego Bay pier has been handling most of the turnarounds and can also handle regular cruise calls primarily because of its proximity to the airport and has been handling most of the home-porting activities. The Ocho Rios pier can also handle all the large vessels but has one slight disadvantage as far as home-porting and turnaround is concerned, it is a finger pier and therefore large trucks and trailers cannot go to the ship to transport goods and services. As for the Port Royal pier, which recently came on board and is perhaps one of the most notable destinations in the history of the Caribbean, it is a finger pier and is not capable of handling home-porting or turnaround activities but it is capable of carrying at least one large ship.

“We have to look at our innovations and new ideas because findings from research conducted (by me and others) is that we could maximise the use of our port facilities if current cruise calls to Jamaica could be doubled or tripled meaning you call at several ports before leaving Jamaica. If that could be introduced to the cruise lines that would cause other benefits to communities in a single call from a single cruise ship,” Dr Bailey argued.

“For years we have been going to the cruise lines and saying let us see what you have, we have not ever gone to the cruise lines with a bunch of offering, supplies and so on and say we can offer you this. I agree with the minister of tourism when he says we need to look at the supply chain on how long before the industry rebounds. I am quite sure the cruise lines will work out a way of handling the distancing onboard; if they are doing those things and spending a lot of money we must match those efforts,” he said further.

In the meantime, he said Jamaicans must do all in their power to help contain the virus.

“The virus is not going anywhere anytime soon, we human beings are the hosts for the virus and unless we get serious and understand that we have to protect ourselves we are going to suffer for it because they may not even come because we are now at 6,000 cases by Christmas if we are not careful we may be at 20 or 30,000 so they may not even want to come here.

“So we must look right in our spaces, what are we going to do to make sure we are in the position to take these vessels once they make a decision?” he asked.

In the meantime, Dr Michelle McLeod, tourism expert and member of The University of the West Indies COVID-19 task force, and tourism lecturer, said with the Caribbean accounting for 35 per cent of the global industry it was clear that the region is a critical player.

“I am not aware of any other industry where the Caribbean would have such a significant share of the market...There are opportunities, if you have empty cruise ships, these can become tourist attractions. Home-porting possibilities have been thought about by several countries across the region but I am yet to see where Caribbean governments have come together and developed a home-porting policy for the region that would mean the spin-off of various industries, manufacturing and agriculture could benefit,” she pointed out.

A 2017/18 study indicated that the total cruise tourism expenditure for Jamaica was US$244.53 million, generating total employment of 8,293 and total wage income US$56.57 million. In 2019 the region received an estimated 28,941,888 cruise visitors, an increase of 3.5 per cent when compared to the same period in 2018.

Last Wednesday, Julie-Anne Burrowes, cruise advisor with Caribbean Village, said the halt in cruising has set the stage for a long-overdue discussion on the social, environmental and economic implications of cruise tourism.

“We are at a really good juncture to ask the question, should we be looking at a resumption of business as usual at any cost or is now the perfect opportunity to create a more sustainable model of regional cruise tourism?

“I think the pandemic has given us the opportunity to make fundamental changes in terms of how we vision approach and manage the cruise tourism sector within the region and that absence of cruise tourism, and tourism in general has forced us to consider areas in which we must diversify,” she said in batting for regional partnership arrangements. She further said organised tours might be the way of the future in the wake of the pandemic given that controlled environments are a key factor in stemming the spread of the virus.

In recent years Jamaica has been engaged in home-porting arrangements with a number of vessels being accommodated at the Montego Bay port.

According to a July assessment by audit firm KPMG, many crew members are still on vessels across the world, either quarantining or manning the ship until the industry resumes operations. It said the current COVID-19 environment had created a high degree of concern amongst the public surrounding the maintenance of health and safety onboard cruise ships.

Ships will now require robust screening and monitoring protocols, implementation of comprehensive sanitation practices with regular inspections, expanded onboard medical facilities and increased medical staff. Also, cruise liners will be expected to work more closely with public health authorities worldwide and CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) to enforce health requirements.

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