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Jamaica Port Authority cruise champion William Tatham bows out

Article-Jamaica Port Authority cruise champion William Tatham bows out

PHOTO: ANNE KALOSH CRUISE_William_Tatham_Falmouth.jpg
William Tatham at Oasis of the Seas' inaugural call at the new Falmouth cruise facilities in 2011
Taking early retirement from the Port Authority of Jamaica, William Tatham, VP cruise shipping and marina operations, was cited for many accomplishments.

Over 20 years he was the face of 'Cruise Jamaica,' involved in upgrades at Ocho Rios and Montego Bay, developing new ports Falmouth and Port Royal, promoting Port Antonio and expanding the lines and ships calling and homeporting. Next up: a new berth planned at Port Antonio's East Harbor.

Passenger arrivals ballooned 181% in his time, with double-digit average annual growth. Transit calls grew 66% and homeporting was established for six regular seasonal ships.

CRUISE JAMAICACRUISE_Jamaica_cruise_ports-1.jpg

Jamaica's five cruise ports. Just two were regularly hosting cruise calls when William Tatham started at the port authority in 2002

Tatham joined the port authority in 2002 at a critical time when it took on responsibility for cruise shipping, previously under the tourist board.  

'From the embryonic stages, he was instrumental in the design and implementation of programs which sought to align our cruise product with the needs of cruise lines, cruise passengers and other industry stakeholders,' Port Authority President/CEO Gordon Shirley told Seatrade Cruise News.

Key resource and guide for port planning

'William was a key resource and guide' during port planning to 'ensure our facilities were designed to keep pace with market demands, current trends and best practices,' Shirley continued. 'Through his input and support our engineering, security and port services teams gave sharp focus to berthing capacity and operations to ensure safe navigation and berthing.'

Shirley credited Tatham's leadership for significantly enhancing the cruise offering and, by extension, Jamaica's stature, with Falmouth and Port Royal winning awards. He also was involved in the experience beyond the port, liaising with cruise lines and ground transportation providers, attraction owners, the Tourism Ministry and related agencies. He created the framework to facilitate homeporting, led cruise marketing and positioned the Cruise Jamaica brand in all the relevant markets.

ANNE KALOSHCRUISE_William_Tatham_collage.jpg

From left, William Tatham with Royal Caribbean's John Tercek at Falmouth, with PortMiami's Hydi Webb at an FCCA conference in Mexico and in the Caribbean Village at Seatrade Europe

'It's a team'

'These are not my accomplishments. It's a team,' Tatham said. 'I was only able to do things because I had the support of other people who had the same vision.' He credited his bosses, Gordon Shirley and the late Noel Hylton, along with colleagues like harbor masters and security, finance, legal and general administration personnel, adding the Port Authority of Jamaica has a 'reputation for doing big things and doing them well and delivering.'

Started at Sandals

Tatham first worked in sales and marketing for Sandals in the early 1990s, based in Miami. The late founder Butch Stewart was an inspiring mentor. Returning home to Jamaica in 1998, Tatham was recruited by the Jamaica Tourist Board as director of cruise shipping. Years later, he learned Stewart had recommended him. 

Knowing nothing about cruising, Tatham became a quick study. His preparation included the 2001 Seatrade Cruise Master Class at the University of Oxford, which he called 'an amazing course, an eye-opener for me.'

At the time, Jamaica was collecting a head tax for cruise calls and the revenue went into the consolidated national fund to be distributed by the Finance Ministry. Tatham thought the ports were dilapidated, so he appealed to Port Authority CEO Noel Hylton, who agreed facilities could be better but revenue came only from cargo operations.

Hylton said if the port authority could get some of the cruise funds, it would invest in the sector. Tatham rallied support for that from Tourism Minister Portia Simpson-Miller (who later became prime minister) and Wykeham McNeill, who held the cruise portfolio.

From a head tax to a user fee

Jamaica did away with the head tax, moving, instead, to a facilities user fee negotiated by the port authority with the lines.

'If we hadn't done that, there would never be a Falmouth because we didn't have the resources,' Tatham said. Nor would other improvements be possible.

Hylton had recruited Tatham to the port authority in 2002 with responsibility for cruise shipping, instructing him to draft a budget to promote and develop cruise tourism and ask every line for their business.

'We'd never done that before,' Tatham said. 'It was a turning point to 'get the resources to promote aggressively.' The Jamaica Tourist Board focused mainly on stayover visitors and didn't visit European cruise lines. Tatham knocked on their doors, and helped spearhead the Caribbean Village joint marketing initiative at Seatrade events.

These efforts led to homeporting by Marella, AIDA, TUI Cruises and MSC. Port Antonio was put forward to handle smaller ships, drawing lines like Silversea and Sea Cloud.

Caribbean Village pride

'One thing I'm very proud of is the Caribbean Village for tourism unity. We don't do enough of this,' Tatham said of regional marketing. Initially there was skepticism about working together but destinations 'found we all share common interests and we learn from each other.

'It's very positive. I hope this carries on.'

How Falmouth came about

Falmouth originated from a conversation at a 2005 Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association event with Royal Caribbean's John Tercek. They were eyeing the Reynolds Pier in Ocho Rios. Tercek said his company was planning a larger ship and the marine department wasn't convinced it could go there.

Tatham took this to Jamaica's maritime minister, who identified Falmouth. It turned out that Royal Caribbean's 'larger ship' was Oasis of the Seas.

The themed 'Historic Falmouth Cruise Port' opened in 2011 and a second Oasis-class berth was subsequently added. Falmouth is used by a variety of lines.

'The way to Kingston is through Port Royal'

Meanwhile, interests in Kingston, the capital, wanted cruise ships. Tatham pitched lines but didn't get much enthusiasm. While talking with Carnival Corp.'s Giora Israel about the development of Reynolds Pier in Ocho Rios, Israel remarked: 'The way to Kingston is through Port Royal.'

That stuck in Tatham's head.

But Port Royal — rich in pirate history, home to the British Navy for 200 years and an underwater archaeological site due to the 1692 earthquake — is overseen by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust, which is preserving and actively investigating it. Any dredging or pile driving would be out of the question.

Opportunity knocks

When no north coast cruise berths were available for a call by Pullmantur's Monarch, Tatham asked if they'd consider Kingston. 'We'll put on a big party. If it doesn't work, you don't pay,' he told the line.

Monarch arrived in December 2016 as the biggest ship ever to call at Kingston — 'like when Oasis came to Falmouth. It was all over the papers. People were so excited,' Tatham said. The prime minister congratulated the port authority and told Gordon Shirley 'We need to make Kingston happen.'

For Tatham, Giora Israel's comment came to mind.

SeaWalk solution

He'd also talked with representatives of the SeaWalk floating pier at Seatrade events and thought this may be a solution. After careful research, it was determined SeaWalk could work at Port Royal without disrupting the archaeological site, and the National Heritage Trust gave its OK. The first call was Marella's Discovery 2 in January 2020.

Then came the pandemic. Tatham called it the most difficult period in his career. He was glad to help shepherd the resumption of cruise calls at Jamaica, but then his family insisted he slow down.

He'll now be working on a private development that is not cruise-related.

As for possibly returning to the cruise sector someday, Tatham said he hasn't closed the door, but 'not right now. I need a break.'

According to Shirley, the port authority is engaged in an internal review as a first step to identify a replacement.

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