Western Bureau: Ever since the opening of Historic Falmouth - the cruise-shipping pier in the Trelawny capital - 21 months ago, Montego Bay has not only been losing its appeal as the favoured destination for cruise-ship stopovers, but from all indications, it is also witnessing a steady exodus of businesses to Falmouth.
"As a chamber, we knew that the Falmouth pier would have impacted us and it has," said Davon Crump, the president of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry. "Not only in terms of cruise-ship arrivals, but as expected, some of our businesses have closed."
The new pier, a US$220-million joint-venture project between the Port Authority of Jamaica and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, has brought new economic impetus to Falmouth, which is strategically located between Ocho Rios and Montego Bay, once the premier cruise-shipping ports.
SLEEPY TOWN AWAKENED
With its sparkling new facilities and appeal, Falmouth is now the envy of both Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, which are now reduced to playing second fiddle to the once-sleepy seaside town.
Basking in the emergence of Falmouth as the new tourism hub in western Jamaica, the town's mayor, Councillor Garth Wilkinson, said business got even better after tour operators were removed from the gate of the port, allowing passengers to disembark into the town.
"What I have done is remove most of the tour operators from the gates of the port and from the reports I have been getting, businesses are now thriving," Wilkinson said.
However, Richard Burke, the president of the Trelawny Chamber of Commerce, is somewhat wary of the fact that the funds being generated from the new businesses, especially duty-free shops, might not necessarily be staying in the parish.
PROFITS LEAVE TOWN
"Many of the businesses on the pier itself are from Montego Bay or Ocho Rios, and apart from employing a few locals (Trelawny residents), nothing else happens," said Burke. "They live in those areas (Montego Bay and Ocho Rios), so all the profits eventually go back there."
Historic Falmouth, which had the highest number of cruise-ship visitors last year - 460,415 passengers on 111 ships in a mere 11 months - is again out front this year. Since the start of the year, Jamaica has welcomed 307 cruise ships with 1.07 million passengers. Falmouth has got 109 vessels, with 477,998 passengers. This places the Trelawny town ahead of Ocho Rios, 105 ships with 302,603 passengers; Montego Bay, 292,090 from 91 ships; and Port Antonio with 406 passengers from two ships.
In addition to attracting new businesses, Falmouth has seen the refurbishing or development of several attractions to include the popular Swamp Safari, the Outameni Experience, rafting on the Martha Brae, and the pirate-themed Captain Hook pleasure vessel.
With Falmouth now bubbling, the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce is calling for the revitalisation of the city's Hip Strip, which it believes is critical to revitalising the city's tourism product and possible return of the businesses, which have gone off in search of greener pastures.
"All my members on the Hip Strip are crying out because of lack of business," said Crump. "We need the hotels that are closed to be reopened. This is crucial to the life of the city and its bid to rebound."
By Mark Titus, Jamaica Gleaner