Marella Discovery II's berthing at the Port Royal Terminal in Kingston on Wednesday, November 23, 2022, was said to have a double impact on Jamaica's tourism sector and wider economy, according to officials of the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) and Port Authority of Jamaica, who invited media to witness a plaque exchange aboard the vessel.
The TUI-managed cruise ship's call on Port Royal is its first for the winter season with the port of Montego Bay serving as its homeport. A homeport is where a ship begins and ends its voyages.
The plaque exchange commemorates the vessel's first docking at Port Royal since February 2020, just before the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic in Jamaica.
Speaking to the Jamaica Observer about the implications of the ship homeporting in Montego Bay, JTB representative and executive director of Jamaica Vacations Limited Joy Roberts explained that passengers on the vessel would fly into Jamaica and stay in a hotel for up to several nights before boarding. Others, she added, would arrive to meet the ship and will stay in a hotel right after its return to the tourism capital.
"You find that passengers — most of these passengers would have flown in from Europe —they would come here to buy toiletries and clothes," she explained, adding that some also support craft stores and other business establishments within the vicinity of the homeport.
Another benefit, she said, is that whereas a ship that passes through the port of Montego Bay would have sufficient inventory on board, ships that homeport there would stock up on inventory by purchasing from local suppliers.
"So ships like these are very important to the economy of Jamaica. One of the additional benefits of this vessel is that coming to Port Royal means that it's multi-porting in Jamaica," Roberts explained further.
"We would like to see more homeporting ships because there is a greater benefit in that a ship like this…would be buying produce and other goods and services in Jamaica," she continued.
With a capacity for some 2,000 passenger, Marella Discovery II had over 1,600 passengers on board when it docked at Port Royal last Wednesday. Passengers were met with entertainment in the form of drummers and a stilt walker as well as exhibition booths.
Among the exhibitors was Blue Mountain Coffee Ventures, the company behind Perk Up Gourmet Coffee. Marketing strategist Hedda Rose Dunkley told Business Observer that she welcomed the opportunity "to engage new people to speak about our brand, and by extension brand Jamaica…introducing our Perk Up 100 per cent Jamaican Gourmet Coffee which is relatively new to the Jamaican market.
"We received very positive feedback about the taste and quality of our product…They loved the fact that Perk Up is grown in the Blue Mountains as they had heard so much about Jamaican coffee," she added.
In addition, several passengers who had disembarked the vessel proceeded to Coaster buses assigned to take them on pre-booked tours to Blue Mountain, Devon House, Bob Marley Museum, and craft markets. Others, meanwhile, ventured in the town to visit Fort Charles and patronise local bars and restaurants.
Prior to this, however, visitors were only allowed to go on "bubble tours", according to Claudette Lindo, acting assistant vice-president — business development and special projects at the Port Authority but the "Government has given us permission to go ahead and have persons walk the town of Port Royal".
When Business Observer asked residents of the community for feedback on the return of cruise ships, they refused to speak, noting that they had been without water for some time.
Lindo shared that in addition to having exhibition booths at the terminal, the agency would have informed business owners in Port Royal of the ship's arrival.
"On the port we have five booths, but we also employ persons from Port Royal to assist us in managing what happens," she said.
Asked about the impact that the multi-porting Marella Discovery II will have on the economy, the Port Authority representative responded, "Double portion!"
In the meantime, Roberts disclosed that disembarkment rates at cruise ports in Jamaica has increased from 50 per cent pre-COVID to 78 per cent, and that the island has a 97 per cent satisfaction rate based on data collected from "Happy or Not" machines installed at terminals.
When asked for a reason for the increase in disembarkment, she pointed to a shift in the demographic of cruise passengers.
"The age of the travellers are a bit different. For instance, this trip would have an older clientèle and if you look you'd see quite a number of young people here. So they want a more immersive [experience]," she stated.
Port Royal, which is marketed as a historic destination, is slated to receive three more vessels in addition to the return of Marella Discovery II for the remainder of the winter season.