Bartlett admits decline in cruise visitors but blames previous Gov'tMonday, January 06, 2020
BY BALFORD HENRY
MINISTER of Tourism Edmund Bartlett has said that the 25 per cent reduction in cruise visitors to the island in 2019 was due partly to the effects of the 2017 hurricane season, agreements reached between the previous Government and the cruise lines, as well as the failure of western Caribbean countries to re-establish an itinerary to link the mega cruise vessels with ports in Jamaica, Haiti and the Cayman Islands.
Even so, he maintained, with last year's tourism earnings exceeding that of 2018 by approximately half a billion dollars, there is no need to panic over the decline. Jamaica earned US$3.8 billion from tourism in 2019.
Bartlett made the comments in reaction to a column by Opposition spokesman on Tourism Dr Wykeham McNeill, which appeared elsewhere in the press yesterday and which accused Bartlett of using “half-truths” in statements regarding the decline in cruise visitors since 2017.
McNeill also called for the cruise shipping sector to be reassigned from the Ministry of Tourism to the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ), which he claimed has been more successful its management.
In response to McNeill's claim about the 25 per cent fall-off since 2017, Bartlett said that he has never denied there was a decline. However, he insisted that it was expected, after the previous Government's agreement with Royal Caribbean Lines (RCL) in 2015 which led to a reduction in visits to Falmouth by their mega vessels.
He said that while the reduced volume of visitors did not affect Government revenue, as the PAJ collected head tax despite the vessels' absence, it greatly reduced the opportunity of Jamaicans to benefit.
“So, when we got into government, it was already coming down the pipeline that between 2018 and 2020 Falmouth would not be getting the volumes determined by that contractual agreement, although the head tax was still paid,” Bartlett explained.
“Since we have been in government, we have been working to try to fill the gap with other vessels coming into Falmouth, to reduce the overall downturn in the volume which resulted from the previous Government's decision,” he added.
He said that the Government has been successful in meeting this need to a large extent. However, the problem has been that the smaller vessels which have been coming since are not capable of matching the volume of cruise visitors who travel on the mega vessels used by RCL and, therefore, can't make up the difference.
“In the meantime, 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,” Bartlett said.
“The itinerary of Falmouth, Labadee and Cayman would become, arguably, the most lucrative itinerary in the world, and the projections are that more than two million visitors would then come to Falmouth on an annual basis,” he said.
He said that arrangement would also include a range of other infrastructural undertaking, including some large investments in building out the shore excursion capacity, as well as attractions and shopping arrangements in Falmouth.
However, he said those arrangements are predicated heavily on the Cayman Islands coming on board, despite the environmental issues that have been raised, and a referendum which is likely to decide their participation in the project.
Bartlett told the Observer last night that he would make a full statement in response to McNeill's letter later this week.