JO - The Errol Flynn Marina. White elephant or evolving wonder?
The Errol Flynn Marina
White elephant or evolving wonder?
BY OLIVIA LEIGH CAMPBELL Sunday Observer Reporter
Sunday, July 02, 2006
PORT ANTONIO, Portland - On a regular Tuesday afternoon, the Errol Flynn Marina in Port Antonio is quiet - very quiet - and certainly does not appear to be the hub of activity and revenue generator for the town it was touted to be when it first opened in 2002.
Two weeks ago, however, it was bustling - filled with participants, organisers and observers of the Panama to Jamaica leg of the Clipper 05/06 Round the World Yacht Race, which stopped in Jamaica with 10 yachts and about 200 crew members.
A biking tour in Portland, Wednesday. Despite the deteriorating infrastructure, the parish still holds much charm for visitors. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
"It's (the Clipper race) the biggest thing to happen to Port Antonio since the marina got opened, the biggest thing that has happened here in years," said John Louis of Westrec Marinas, the management company that has operated the Port Antonio marina since 2003.But such events happen once in a while. For the most part, the marina just sits there.
Louis says, however, it's only a matter of time and marketing before both the marina and associated Ken Wright cruise ship pier start bringing in regular business.Westrac, on its website, claims to be the largest company of its kind in the world. It operates 25 marinas in the United States and several others in the Caribbean, South America and Central America.
The marina business, explained Louis, is seasonal, with yachters coming to the island in the winter, usually to escape foul weather."Our clientele normally summers in Europe and winters in the Caribbean," said Louis, pointing to the fact that during the summer, the weather in North America and Europe was quite pleasant, while the Caribbean is susceptible to storms.
"The biggest concern is that the insurance companies are making it very, very expensive for visiting yachts to be in the Caribbean during the hurricane season."But even with those concerns, Louis remains optimistic about the growth of the business, saying the marina did surprisingly well last year, given the number of storms.
"Revenues are still going up, so presumably we're doing good," he said. "Our total revenues are currently up by about 40 per cent, which is significant, especially since the rest of Port Antonio seems to be going the other way."
The marina, explained Louis, took some time to be ready for business, with the fuel dock opening only last year.William Tatham, vice president for cruise shipping at the Port Authority of Jamaica, the government entity that owns the cruise ship pier and marina, said that last year there were between 14 and 20 calls by boutique (small) cruise ships.
"We've gone from zero to about 20, and its a huge task," said Tatham, explaining that because of the harbour channel, only boutique ships, which carry less than a thousand passengers can call at the port.
"The challenges we face are that boutique cruises don't happen on a weekly run, like say the Royal Caribbean will do a seven-day run out of Miami," said Tatham.Boutique cruises, he says, usually attract high-end spenders with a lot of leisure time. Such cruises tend to last 14 to 18 days, and sometimes longer on world cruises. So to get a ship of that size to come here on a weekly basis is almost impossible.
"They tend not to do that because they can't compete with the mega lines on a weekly basis," said Tatham.The port executive did not rule out the dredging of the harbour, but questioned its value for Port Antonio.
When people ask why we don't dredge to allow bigger ships in, I ask: 'Is that really what you want in a place like Port Antonio? Do you want to see 3,000 cruise passengers dumped into a town this size?" said Tatham. "This is a very high end product; it's not built for mega lines, it's catering to a different market."
Both Tatham and Louis say marketing the marina will take time. "You're in a business that's really in its infancy... it takes a while to get the word around," said Louis.
Added Tatham, borrowing a line from a movie: "People thought if you build it, they will come; but no, it doesn't work that way. You have to go out there and market it, you have to talk about it, get the word out."
The Clipper Race and the renaming of the marina, they hope, will become big selling points."If you ask the average person in the United States, they know Ocho Rios, they know Negril, they know Montego Bay, but not Port Antonio," said Louis.
"I think the renaming will give that flamboyance, that branding. It almost brings the intrigue, makes someone want to ask, 'Errol Flynn?' 'Port Antonio? Where is that?' Its that pizzazz, that sort of swashbuckling, Caribbean sort of feeling."
Tempering the optimism is the reality that in many ways, Port Antonio is not ready for large-scale tourism.
Although the marina and cruise ship facilities are said to be world class, much of Portland isn't - especially the roads.To ignore the infrastructure needs, suggested Louis, would be an act of folly, even though the tourists have been coming.
"The biggest complaint we get is that its very hard to get in and out of Port Antonio at the moment," said the marina's manager."It's an hour and 30 minutes flying from Miami to Kingston, but its two and a half hours - if you drive the easiest way, when its not raining, to get here."
Though, internationally, infrastructure developments are used to spur investments, Tatham is hoping it will work the other way around for Port Antonio.
The Port Authority VP says he expects infrastructure improvements will come over time, spurred by the marina and its contribution.
As more ships and yachts come in, he theorises, business opportunities will rise, and pressure will be brought to bear on getting the tourism infrastructure up and functioning."I'd like to see about 52 cruise calls a year - about one a week," said Tatham.
"But that will take years, and it will take encouraging. Again, there's work to be done in the town, on the attractions, but that will only serve to accelerate that."Louis also claims the marina could have a catalytic effect on the seaside Portland capital.
"It's not a white elephant; that I can assure you. It brings the boats in... the tourists in, whether its by boat or people from Kingston who just come to enjoy the beauty of the marina," he said."Without it, we'd be going nowhere. If you ask anyone here, things are moving forward."