Cruise arrivals up 30% over 2002


NEW YORK -- A flood of new cruise calls is helping fuel a tourism recovery in Jamaica, where passenger arrivals -- which increased by nearly a third last year -- are expected to grow another 10% in 2004.

By Dec. 3, the port at Ocho Rios had welcomed Jamaica's one-millionth cruise visitor for 2003. At press time, the Jamaica Tourist Board was projecting more than 1.1 million such arrivals for the entire year -- an increase of close to 30% over 2002, said Paul Pennicook, Jamaica's director of tourism.

This boom in cruise calls -- coupled with a less impressive but steady rise in land-based stopovers of some 6.5% -- resulted in Jamaica matching its 2001 arrival rates last year.

"With a bit of luck, we may even have beat records set in 2000, which was our best year in a decade," said Pennicook, adding that this coming year looks strong, as "all indications are that the recovery that began in mid-2002 carried into 2003 and will continue into 2004."

Much of the growth in cruise arrivals has been seen in Montego Bay -- which welcomed 85% more passengers last year, according to the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association -- although Ocho Rios remains Jamaica's primary port of call.

The government and Port Authority of Jamaica have invested heavily in upgrading and marketing the two ports. Berth improvements now enable the docking of much larger ships, such as Royal Caribbean's new 3,114-passenger Mariner of the Seas.

Investments have also been made in smaller Port Antonio, which is being groomed as a "preferred destination" for smaller boutique vessels.

The impact of cruise passenger arrivals goes far beyond simple arithmetic, according to Pennicook.

"Although they don't spend as much time on the island as land-based visitors, cruise passengers do add to our visitor expenditures," said Pennicook. And they do so differently than resort-based visitors, making greater use of attractions and shopping venues, he added.

To contact reporter Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].

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