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Breaking Travel News interview: William Tatham, VP Cruise Shipping & Marina Operations, Jamaica

Breaking Travel News interview: William Tatham, VP Cruise Shipping & Marina Operations, Jamaica

The Jamaica Port Authority, named World’s Leading Tourism Development Project and World’s Leading Cruise Destination by the World Travel Awards  (WTA) has gone from strength to strength since opening the spectacular US$220 Falmouth Port last year, a project which many believed to be impossible.

Since arriving onto the scene, the dazzling development has injected new life into the already popular destination, attracting a more affluent and older clientele and renewed interest from international cruise lines. In 2011, over 460,410 cruise passengers birthed at Falmouth Port, boosting Jamaica’s total cruise visitors to 1,137,328, compared to 908,822 the previous year.

Breaking Travel News checks in with William Tatham, Vice President of Cruise Shipping & Marina Operations to find out what’s on the agenda for the second half of 2012 for the Jamaica Port Authority and to discuss the second phase of developments at Falmouth.

Breaking Travel News: How is business for the Jamaica Port Authority?

William Tatham: Very well, we are experiencing 20% growth making us the fastest growing cruise destination in the world at the moment. This has primarily to do with the opening of Falmouth which has increased our birthing capacity by 50%, enabling us to address the challenge of lack of birthing capacity in winter months. With that increase we have been able to absorb a significant amount of demand received over the last couple of years for the winter season.

BTN: Are you attracting new types of passengers?

WT: The opening of Falmouth Port was a joint venture with Royal Caribbean so they have been putting the majority of their existing business from Jamaica into the port. They have also increased their commitment and visits to Jamaica.

With the availability that has been created, we have been able to track other cruise lines such as Norwegian Cruise Lines, which have picked up slots that have become available in Ocho Rios.

We’ve been courting a number of lines with an interest in Falmouth and others that are looking at Jamaica for the first time. We have been inviting cruise companies, such as Disney, down to visit and look at the port. It’s such a dramatic change compared to what we offered before. Falmouth has brought attention to it-self but has also renewed interest in the destination and it has also offered a lot more flexibility to cruise lines.

BTN: Are you noticing any trends with new types of cruise travellers?

WT: We are finding that the attraction that Falmouth has is to an older, more affluent and probably more educated kind of clientele. It’s a different approach that Jamaica has ever taken before. We’ve traditionally positioned Falmouth as a sun, sand and sea destination but now we are focusing on the history and culture.

For example, Chukka has taken over the best preserved plantation in the area – Good Hope Estate and they have developed attractions that focus on the history of the area. You can go on a horse and carriage ride or a Dune Buggy ride that takes you to historic locations. These new tours have been well received and Jamaica will probably pursue that with other historical areas that they can capture, such as Ocho Rios.

BTN: Now that the first phase of Falmouth is nearing completion, what projects are next on the agenda?

WT: Our first objective was to get Falmouth open which we did. It is an on-going project in this first phase. 85% of the shore-side retail entertainment is now open and a new Jimmy Buffets Margaritaville will open in the fall. This will be an enormous and elaborate facility including a pirate ship on its side, waterslides, jaccuzis and bars.

We are also now in talks with Royal Caribbean about what the next phases will hold. We have 30 acres to work with and want to create activities and venues that will be attractive to the cruise passengers but also to pull travellers from the North coast. Realistically we will probably start phase 2 in the summer, we are exploring a number of ideas.

Phase one cost US$220 million. We have not yet budgeted for phase 2. We have this land and it has created a tremendous amount of excitement within the industry. We now have investors who are looking at this and want to be involved.

We anticipate we will grow to 800,000 passengers within the next few years. We are already over 500,000 which is opening people’s eyes to the opportunities.

BTN: Can you reveal any investors that may come on stream?

WT: Not yet but we have been talking to international attraction owners and theme park companies as we have 50 acres on the landside in addition to the 30 acres on the sea. The large parcel over the road will probably be phase 3.

BTN: How will you mark Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of independence?

WT: We have been talking about this but have not set anything in stone yet. We will probably have something at the ports, but we don’t want to distract from the business of the day. We will try to work with the shore excursions so there is a consistency of message and the importance of time is recognised.

BTN: Can you discuss the significance of winning several World Travel Awards and being nominated once again in the categories of Caribbean’s Leading Cruise Destination and Caribbean’s Leading Cruise Port?

WT: We have won awards in the past but it is the WTA that made the Port Authority build an elaborate awards case which is on the executive floor outside out chairman’s offices for visitors to see.

Winning these awards has given us a lot of attention and has been really effective with our marketing. We have always primarily focused on trade but with the WTA we have been able to reach.

BTN: What are your key differentiating factors that have contributed to you winning numerous awards?

WT: Jamaica has more to offer within one hour’s drive of our ports than any other destination. With the exception of snow skiing, there are so many activities for visitors; from exploring historical locations, to zip lining, climbing waterfalls, river rafting and mountain climbing – it just keeps growing.

I think the diversity is what has made us such a recognisable and strong destination. And I think it is the never ending investment and improvement along the shore side by our operators has brought another level of attention.

BTN: What are your priorities going forwards?

WT: With the major work on Falmouth behind us, now we are looking back on our existing ports including Ocho Rios and Montego Bay Bay and hoping to improve the guest experience at the ports and also on the ground - we are also working closely with the Ministry of Tourism to address this.

BTN: To what extent is sustainability a priority?

WT: Sustainability is important to enable us to grow and continue. In terms of green initiatives, we are looking at recycling programmes that could be initiated in Falmouth as a starting point. We have also had some very positive discussions with Royal Caribbean who have a very proactive approach so we can learn from them.

To find out whether Jamaica Port Authority triumphs at the World Travel Awards Caribbean & Americas Ceremony that is set to take place in Turks & Caicos on September 14th click here.