Is Jamaica on the decline? Could be.
Princess Cruises will remove Jamaican ports from its Western Caribbean itineraries beginning next year, due in part to the island's poor performance on passenger surveys.
The cruise line's 2009-10 Caribbean cruise schedule, released last week, drops Jamaican port calls from all seven-day sailings to the Western Caribbean. The Honduran island of Roatan will replace the Jamaica stop (currently either Ocho Rios or Montego Bay) on all of these cruises, joining holdovers Grand Cayman, Cozumel and the private island of Princess Cays on the itinerary.
Crown Princess will handle the altered Western Caribbean lineup, taking over the route from Ruby Princess, and will sail on 27 departures beginning in November 2009.
Ocho Rios and Montego Bay have long been mainstays for Princess in the Caribbean, and are both included on 2008-09 itineraries currently offered onboard Ruby Princess. But Jamaica's somewhat gritty image, along with persistent passenger concerns about crime and a too-visible drug culture, may have finally forced the cruise line to make a change.
Passenger response played a significant role in the decision to add Roatan at the expense of Jamaica's pair of ports, according to Princess.
"Part of the selection process for ports of call is based on passenger surveys," Princess spokesperson Karen Candy tells us via e-mail. "At the conclusion of each and every cruise, we ask passengers to rank the ports on their sailing based on both whether it was important to them in the purchase decision for the cruise, and also whether it delivered to their expectations."
It would seem that Ocho Rios and Montego Bay were unable to meet those expectations.
The significant loss of calls from Princess is a serious blow to Jamaica's somewhat beleaguered tourism industry, and could blunt an ambitious five-year plan recently announced by the Jamaica Tourist Board. The JTB expects cruise passenger arrivals to rise 1.9 percent in 2008 and hopes to increase arrivals by 6.3 percent overall by 2012. Jamaica has started strong this year with arrivals up 4.2 percent in January and February compared to the same period in 2007, but the pending loss of so many Princess calls could eventually stall the island's momentum.
A spokesperson for Jamaica did not provide comment by press time.
Princess, however, has not forsaken Jamaica completely. Montego Bay will be included on the line's 14-day Grand Caribbean Islander and Grand Caribbean Adventurer itineraries onboard Sea Princess during the 2009-10 season.
--by Michael Potter, Assistant Editor
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Passengers Prompt Princess to Jettison Jamaican Ports
May 22, 2008