Last updated: 09:30 AM ET, Mon September 21 2015

Falmouth, Jamaica Endures Tourism Growing Pains as Cruise Visits Grow

Destination & Tourism | Brian Major | September 21, 2015

Falmouth, Jamaica Endures Tourism Growing Pains as Cruise Visits Grow

PHOTO: Falmouth’s historic St. Peter’s Anglican Church briefly closed in June. (Photo by Brian Major)

Jamaican news reports indicate government officials are planning an expansion of the highly successful cruise ship port in the historic town of Falmouth. The news comes as the historic but once-sleepy community endures growing pains from increased cruise passenger traffic following the 2011 construction of what is now Jamaica’s top cruise ship facility.

One of Falmouth’s oldest buildings, 200-year-old St. Peter’s Church, briefly closed in June following tensions between church members and vendors selling souvenirs to tourists visiting the church, which has emerged as a top Falmouth attraction.

Although the tensions appear to have eased since the summer, Anglican Church officials in western Jamaica told the Jamaica Observer they are receptive to the “steadily swelling” collection of craft vendors operating in a church area designated for parking.

The church officials stress however that the vending operations should be regulated. Plans are underway to implement a licensing system, one church official said. The situation highlights the impact of the more than 700,000 cruise ship travelers that now visit Falmouth annually.

Vendors began setting up displays in the historic church’s parking space soon after the cruise pier opened in 2011. Dating to 1794, the church is one of the country’s oldest, offering visitors a fine example of Jamaican Georgian architecture. The building’s supporting columns are crafted from solid mahogany and its floor is inlaid with mahogany crosses.

Falmouth has also struggled with reports of harassment of cruise ship visitors in recent years. Nevertheless the historic town, founded by Thomas Reid in 1769 as the center for England’s then-flourishing sugar industry, has proven popular with many cruise passengers.

Falmouth features several historic buildings and attractions, and also provides travelers with a look at an authentic, long-established Jamaican community in contrast to the resort-oriented cities of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios.

Now the town appears poised to welcome even more cruise tourists. Gordon Shirley, president and CEO of the Jamaica Port Authority, said earlier this year that plans are being finalized for an expansion of the Falmouth pier. The original pier was launched through a $220 million joint venture by PAJ and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

Shirley has said Royal Caribbean is again involved in the expansion talks, with the cruise line’s officials saying the two existing piers “won’t cut it.” Royal Caribbean officials did not respond to requests for comment on Shirley’s remarks.

Jamaica’s government is also showing strong interest in promoting Falmouth tourism. In June, Jamaica tourism officials announced a $ 2.82 million Falmouth Streetscape Improvement Project through the government’s Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF). The project will include “aesthetic and structural improvement to roads and lanes in Water Square,” described as “the center of Falmouth life during the town’s 18th century period as a leading sugar-producing commercial center for England.”

 “We will be looking at the actual town in terms of its authentic nature and work at maintaining its historical integrity,” said Clyde Harrison, TEF’s executive director, in a Jamaica Information Service interview. “We will be working on the drainage system, and resurfacing areas, in order to enhance the ambiance in the town.”

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