The Port Authority of Jamaica recently formalized a $16.5 million contract with Royal Caribbean Cruises that will guarantee a minimum of 2.2 million passengers to the island over a five-year period.

According to Minister of Housing, Transport, Water, and Works Robert Pickersgill, "that figure, broken out, accords 400,000 visitors in 2005, and further specifies that a minimum of 462,500 passengers will call at our port facilities on Royal Caribbean vessels during 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009."

As part of the deal, Jamaica will also build a new terminal by 2009 to accommodate Genesis-class ships, according to Pickersgill.

"We have made a commitment to have a new terminal ready for the Genesis," said William Tatham, vice president of cruise shipping and marina operations for the Port Authority Of Jamaica. "We are presently identifying where the berth will be," he continued. One possibility is to convert an existing cargo pier in Ocho Rios, according to Tatham, although another location is also possible, he added, noting that a decision is expected within the next two to three months.

The agreement covers Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, and Island Cruises, and also any vessel chartered or operated by Royal Caribbean, or any other shipping company in which it has at least 51 percent interest during the term of the agreement, Pickersgill said.

In the case of Montego Bay, the port authority signed off on a $67 million improvement to the berthing facilities, which is scheduled to begin in 2007, and be completed in 2008.

Among the proposed developments will be the construction and renovation of three berths, two of which will accommodate vessels over 1,000 feet in length, and the third berth will handle vessels 900 feet in length.

A second terminal building will also be added, along with extensive facilities to accommodate customs operations, retail shopping and entertainment, Pickersgill said.

Added Tatham: "The new facility is due to be completed in fall 2008; we are focused on accommodating homeported ships as well as calls."

AIDA Cruises sails from Jamaica during the winter season and Ocean Village is slated to join the German line next winter.

In addition to the Montego Bay project, the Ocho Rios terminal will be upgraded and improved to handle the Freedom of the Seas, which has been calling in Montego Bay since June.

In terms of the growing passenger traffic, Tatham said that Jamaica has the infrastructure to accommodate more passengers, noting that the highways on the North Coast have been upgraded over the past three years. In addition, he said, Jamaica is a much bigger island than some of its neighbors, thus being able to absorb more visitors on its beaches, mountains and at other sights.

The agreement commits Royal Caribbean to spend a minimum of $16.5 million in user fees. Jamaica has no head tax. It has been converted into user fees instead in addition to smaller charges for wharfage and berthing.

The bulk of the return on the investment will be in terms of shopping, shore exclusions and other passenger and crew spending.