28 December 2008

Virtual Tourism in a Floating Paradise

John Maxwell
The Port Authority of Jamaica is clearly one of Jamaica’s most sophisticated public entities; they even appear to have a vice-president in charge of delivering bad news. This gentleman, Mr Pat Belinfanti was quoted round the world, according to Google, about 34,000 times two weeks ago as saying ‘Jamaica suspends port expansion, blames economy’.
Papers as diverse as the Seattle Times, the International Herald Tribune and the Taiwan News reported that “ Jamaica is suspending plans for a multimillion-dollar expansion of a popular tourist port in Kingston because no one wants to finance it.”
I was bemused by the mention of a ‘popular tourist port in Kingston’ since I couldn’t figure out where such a place might be.
Here is the core of the story:
”A spokesman for the island's port authority says the $122 million project at the Kingston Wharf will be pushed back one year. Pat Belinfanti says construction might start in 2011.
He said Friday that several international banks backed off, citing the global financial crisis after initially saying they might finance the project.
The development would include construction of duty-free shops and a renovation of the nearby Port Royal town as a cruise ship destination.”
The figure of US$122 million appeared to indicate that what might actually have been zapped was the monstrous Falmouth Cruise ship facility Phase One of the Human Zoo planned for Trelawny. The rest of the story appearing to be simply journalistic confetti, scattered to deflect the anti=spin missiles of the foreign press. No such luck.
What is admirable about the Port Authority is that, like their paragon, the UDC (Ultimate Devastation Conglomerate) they gallantly refuse to take no for an answer and like the Light Brigade, will continue charging into the jaws of death, into the gates of hell, if only to deliver their latest press release or to try to borrow even more money while they cannot service their current debt, incurred while no one was looking.
 What really seems to have happened is that the Port Authority has recently suffered some serious financial setbacks and is in the process of drawing in its horns.
In the Gleaner of Dec 11  a story written by Arthur Hall says “The worldwide financial meltdown has started to hit Jamaica's ports, delaying one major project and causing some international financiers to shy away from another.
In addition, there has been a 15 per cent decline in domestic cargo moving through the ports since August. A noisily trumpeted 5 year contract with Maersk, the world’s largest shipping line (2005) disintegrated before the contract was even halfway done.
Chairman of the Port Authority of Jamaica, Noel Hylton, said plans to begin the expansion of the transshipment port in the Fort Augusta area of St Catherine in 2010 have been shelved, with the project now slated to begin a year later.”
Reality is clearly setting in this area. In another area I am not so sure. Arthur Hall’s story says that the high cost of capital may also  be damaging the immediate prospects of the amazing proposed cruise shipping pier in Falmouth where the PA needs $US122 million to seal the deal
As the world’s risk takers sprint for the exits, Jamaica’s gallant Port Authority stands unfazed :  ”we have about eight banks which have indicated a willingness to offer financing," Hylton said; "The question of getting the financing is not the problem for us ... The problem is the cost of the financing and in today's world, financing costs can be very high," said Hylton.
You can say that again, but you shouldn’t need to. Jamaica has lots of experience with usury. (Eight banks!)
Why anyone should consider destroying Falmouth has never been clear to me, especially to replace it with the Disneyfied monstrosity proposed by the Port Authority in cahoots with Royal Caribbean. Everything is being done at a very high level of course and environmentally concerned people like us just need to shut up and take our medicine.
The medicine is going to be potent. While parliamentary committees gave been reassured that Falmouth will be no danger to the cruise shipping industry, no such guarantees have been given to the  Jamaican hoteliers whose customers regard Jamaica as the attraction.
Travelling Cities
THe challenge of the new mega-cruise ships is to the land based hotels and their employees.
Look at the picture accompanying this column.
The Oasis of the Seas will make land-based hotels irrelevant. Instead of bringing visitors to Jamaica the new ships will offer an ersatz Jamaica to the visitors. Each of these ships will be human zoos specially designed to so bemuse their clientele that it will soon be possible to offer -- in a plain brown wrapper -- a virtual tourism product in the privacy of your own home. I’m sure they’re working on it. In the meantime Royal Caribbean says The  Oasis of the Seas  will be a state-of-the-art 'travelling city' – the largest and most revolutionary cruise ship in the world. The Oasis  will feature seven distinct neighbourhoods including a shopping mall and a Green zone: The cruise liner will have its own ‘Central Park’. (Applause!!!)
The liner’s 220,000 gross registered tons (GRT)will carry 5,400 guests in 2,700 staterooms on 16 decks (and 5,000 crew)
Oasis  will be the first ship to demonstrate the Royal Caribbean’s concept of seven distinct themed neighborhood areas, which include a Central Park, Boardwalk, the Royal Promenade, the Pool and Sports Zone, Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center, Entertainment Place and Youth Zone.
Do not Pass GO!
According to the literature each ship’s central park will be basically a mini ‘jungle’ themed to reflect an imaginary island, say Jamaica, no doubt with its quota of  iguanas, crocodiles, parrots, humming birds and other “authentic’ simulacra of the ‘authentic’ island experience, about as much authentic ‘nature’ as a couch potato can stand and making it unnecessary to actually visit the place.
One cannot help hoping that these benefactors of the sea will have the forethought to include appropriate accommodation to display retired politicians and other ginnigogs  in their natural habitat.
Given all this, the rationale for the Falmouth cruise shipping centre is simple: There’s got to be somewhere to dump the huge amounts of waste generated by such an environmentally unfriendly project. Falmouth’s destiny is to act as a relief point for the ship to be sanitised, resupplied with cheap Jamaican water and for the ship its passengers and crew to offload their excrement in what will become the tourist crapital (sic) of the world.
You read it here first.
Copyright ©2008 John Maxwell

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