With Americans being vaccinated against COVID-19 at a very fast rate, Jamaica could see the return of cruise shipping in the short term, local officials and stakeholders argue.
A good sign, they say, is the announcement by the Royal Caribbean Group, the second largest cruise company in the world behind Carnival Cruise Line, that they will resume cruising in June 2021 for vaccinated crew members and guests.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in his recent budget debate presentation, noted that Jamaica was keeping a close tab as to what is happening in the United States, making a direct link between the rapid pace of the vaccination exercise in that country and a potentially earlier than expected return of cruise shipping to the island.
“With the vaccination programme in full swing in the United States, the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) is cautiously optimistic that Cruise operations will resume on or before the start of the season in November 2021,” Holness told Parliament.
He added that the Government, in the interim, has been doing major infrastructural work in the major cruise towns, so as not to be caught flatfooted in the imminent return of a sector that has consistently demonstrated a high level of profitability and dependability.
Holness gave as an example the reconstruction of the Reynolds Pier in Ocho Rios, which he said has been reconstructed to create a second berthing facility capable of accommodating the largest classes of cruise vessels.
A new promenade, the prime minister added, has been installed, linking the Reynolds Pier to the Ocho Rios Fishing Village, Island Village, the Main Cruise Terminal and the Town of Ocho Rios.
“With these developments, Jamaica intends to be a leader in the Cruise Sector in the hemisphere. We have five distinctive terminals, each featuring a range of attractions in proximity, and all are near an international airport. Montego Bay is ideally equipped as a homeporting facility. This is a segment of the Cruise Sector that we intend to grow significantly,” Holness noted.
United States President, Joe Biden, has set a new target of 200 million vaccine shots in his first 100 days in office, doubling his initial goal.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said 26.3 per cent of the US population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 14 per cent has completed vaccination.
“If Americans are being vaccinated at such a fast pace, then it stands to reason that travelling, notably cruise shipping, could return quicker than previously anticipated,” said Senior Director of the Royal Shop chain of Inbond stores, Ravi Daswani.
“Cruise shipping has been one of the hardest hit sectors and we can’t wait for the ships to be back,” he said.
For his part, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Chukka Caribbean Adventures, Marc Melville, said that the absence of the cruise ships since March last year has affected a lot of businesses…some to the point of closure.
“The sooner they return the better. Cruise shipping is an important part of the tourism sector. A lot of businesses, including the attractions, the craft industry, the transportation sector, and shop owners have been reeling,” he said.