Jamaica’s cruise numbers saw solid growth last year, but tourism authorities there are not pleased with the level of per-passenger spending, which trails most other major cruise destinations in the Caribbean.
Data about Jamaica’s cruise industry are contained in the recently released Annual Travel Statistics 2011, a hefty document published by the Jamaica Tourist Board that examines all facets of visitor arrivals, hotel occupancy by room size category and visitor expenditure.
Tourism data were compiled from embarkation/disembarkation cards filled out by visitors arriving by air and by exit surveys at the airports and at cruise ship piers.
Data on cruise ship arrivals were obtained from the ships’ manifests.
In many instances, the current figures are compared to figures for the years since 2007 to illustrate how well or poorly certain tourism segments are faring.
Jamaica had solid cruise growth in 2011, welcoming more than 1.1 million passengers, a jump of 23.7% over 2010.
The main contributing factor to the turnaround in passenger arrivals was the opening of the Falmouth pier in Trelawny in February 2011.
In the 11 months that followed, the port of Falmouth hosted 110 cruise ship calls and was the entry point for 456,442 cruise ship passengers, or 40.6% of all passengers arriving in Jamaica. That included 21 calls by Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis of the Seas, accounting for 125,023 passengers.
The port of Ocho Rios, which in the past provided the largest share of Jamaica’s cruise arrivals, accounted for 417,520 of total cruise passengers in 2011, or 37.1%.
The port of Montego Bay accounted for 250,491 passengers, or 22.3%. The problem lies in how much those passengers spent in their ports of arrival. Overall gross visitor expenditure in 2011 was estimated at just over $2 billion, an increase of just 0.4% over 2010.
Foreign visitors arriving by air spent $1.85 billion, while cruise passenger spend totaled $80 million, and nonresident Jamaicans visiting friends and family contributed $76 million.
This means that the average tourist on holiday spent $115.74 per person per night, while cruise passengers strolling the streets of Falmouth or the vendor stalls in Montego Bay spent just $71.27.
The level of cruise passenger spend is not sitting well with tourism officials. It represents a drop of 20%, or $16 per passenger, the lowest in 10 years, according to the JTB annual report.
This is a disappointing payback following the opening of the much-touted Falmouth pier.
William Tatham, vice president of the Port Authority of Jamaica, said tourism officials would like to see a 70% jump in the cruise spend per passenger, to $120 per person, in the coming cruise season.
That goal could be realized with the opening of Margaritaville Falmouth at the cruise pier later this year.
The planned $7 million, 17,000-square-foot attraction will include a pirate ship with a pool and water slide, a zipline and a Jacuzzi right on the dock, according to Ian Dear, CEO of Island Entertainment Brands, which operates 27 Margaritaville venues, four of them in Jamaica.
Even if Jamaica should reach its goal of passengers spending $120 a day, the island still will trail the Bahamas and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Caribbean’s two top-volume cruise ports, when it comes to per-passenger spend.
The Bahamas welcomed 4.1 million cruise passengers in 2011, up 9.4% from the 3.8 million it welcomed in 2010.
The average spend of a Bahamas cruise passenger in 2012 is $111, up from $73 in 2011, according to Carla Stuart, director of cruise development for the Ministry of Tourism.
“The Bahamas remains the leader in the cruise industry in the region,” Stuart said. “For the first quarter of 2012, we saw more than an 11% increase in cruise arrivals compared to the same period in 2011. We expect this growth will continue throughout the year, bringing in significant revenue to small businesses and individuals employed directly and indirectly in the tourism sector.”
The USVI cruise numbers stood at 2 million in 2011, up 8.1% from 1.8 million in 2010, putting it third in cruise volume in the Caribbean region. (If Cozumel, Mexico, an island port in the Western Caribbean off Mexico’s Riviera Maya region, is factored into the Caribbean cruise data, it actually outranks the USVI with 2.8 million cruise arrivals in 2011, down 1.4% from the 2.9 million in 2010.)
Passengers disembarking in St. Thomas and St. Croix outspent those in Nassau and Freeport, Bahamas last year, dropping $156 per person on duty-free items, island tours, banana daiquiris at Mountaintop in St. Thomas or Buck Island snorkeling tours in St. Croix.
However, the 2011 figure fell from the 2010 figure of an average spend of $167 per cruise passenger, according to the Department of Tourism.
Projected cruise passenger spend for the U.S. Virgin Islands during the 2012-2013 cruise season is $165 per person.
Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.