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Profile: William Tatham

The man behind Jamaica's cruise success

profile-william-tathamHe would not make such a claim himself, but if there is one man behind the runaway success of Jamaica as a cruise destination then that man is William Tatham. Mr Tatham answers questions from Caribbean Maritime about his life, his genuine passion for Jamaica and its key position in the region’s cruise industry.

Q: Where were you born and where did you go to school?
A: I was born in Mandeville, Jamaica which is located in the center of the island about 2,000 ft above sea level. Most of my schooling was in Mandeville at Belair School – an institution founded and funded by the alumina companies headquartered in Mandeville. I then graduated from university school at Nova Southeastern University (NSU) in Fort Lauderdale.

Q: Did you have a clear idea when you were growing up of what career you might choose?
A: Like all kids I thought I knew what I wanted to do and for many years it was to work in the world of movies, behind the camera in the area of production. In pursuit of that I worked on a number of movies and a television show between graduating high school and going to university. It did not take long for me to realize that this was not what I really wanted to do.

Q: Where did you go to university?
A: I attended Florida International University in Miami and graduated in 1984 with a degree in history.

Q: What was the course of your career up to when you joined the Port Authority of Jamaica?
A: Prior to the PAJ I had worked for Sandals Resorts in the company’s sales and marketing department, for Sun Island Jamaica (a leisure wear company) and the Jamaica Tourist Board as the director of cruise shipping for Jamaica. It was while I was at the JTB that I saw that the rightful home for cruise should be with the Port Authority and lobbied the government to move the position over to the PAJ.

Q: How long have you been with the PAJ?
A: I joined the Port Authority in 2002 and while technically the position has remained constant, the area of responsibility has expanded substantially. When I initially joined the PAJ it was primarily to do all of the cruise-related marketing, but over the years the position has expanded to include port development.

Q: How has the cruise business developed and expanded over the years that you have been involved?
A: I joined the JTB in 1998 and in that year cruise passenger arrivals were around 670,000. Last year, 2015, was a record for Jamaica with over 1,560,000 passengers.

Q: What have been the unique selling points for Jamaica’s north coast ports?
A: Jamaica can offer a greater variety of things to do within one hour of its ports than any other destination in the region. This can be cultural, spiritual, historical or just natural.

Q: The size and design of cruise ships has changed in a profound way in recent years. How much of a challenge has this been to Jamaica's cruise ports?
A: It has been a challenge. However, Jamaica has been at the forefront of engaging the cruise operators and working with them to ensure the ports could manage the next generation of ships. When I first joined the JTB the ‘Grand Princess’ had just been launched, at the time the largest cruise vessel in the world, and very quickly we saw this followed by the ‘Voyager of the Seas’ and then the ‘Freedom of the Seas’. We were able to accommodate all of these vessels at our two main ports. But when the ‘Oasis of the Seas’ was announced we knew there had to be a new approach and, with Royal Caribbean Cruises as a partner, we developed the historic port of Falmouth, which has succeeded beyond all our expectations.

Q: What has been your strategy in terms of allowing each of Jamaica’s four main cruise ports to play to its strength?
A: This is still a work in progress. We have successfully branded Falmouth and Ocho Rios but are still working on the other two ports.

Q: The rebranding of Falmouth as a special ‘historic Jamaica’ experience has been a project dear to your heart. How did the idea came about?
A: When we were developing Falmouth we recognized that we were dealing with an unknown. The industry and the regular cruiser knew our two main ports of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, but not Falmouth. We needed to get the message across that Falmouth was something different yet just as special as the other ports and as it is one of the most historical towns in the region it was easy to focus on that as its strength.

Q: There are plans for a cruise terminal at Port Royal near Kingston. Has any firm decision been made about this project?
A: No final decisions on this just yet. The Port Authority is very supportive of seeing cruise shipping return to Port Royal/Kingston but not at the expense of its other ports. It has its challenges but we think this area has much to offer and are committed to building the pier once the demand is there.

Q: How has a significant rise in the number of cruise ships being home-ported in Jamaica been achieved?
A: With a nearby world-class airport (MBJ) we always felt that Montego Bay had the potential of being a major Caribbean home port. As such, in 2009 while we were working on Falmouth we started to look seriously at this side of the business. We identified those cruise lines that we felt might be interested and we began to target them aggressively.

Q: Can you give us an idea of what your job as vice president of cruise shipping entails over the course of the year?
A: From the marketing side I almost always participate in the major cruise shows (Seatrade, FCCA, etc). In addition to this I find real value in engaging the lines in one-on-one meetings. This is very important not only in developing new business but also in maintaining our existing business. Beyond the marketing I spend a lot of time on the ground visiting the ports and working with management teams there to ensure that we are delivering the right levels of services and product.

Q: What of your home life and leisure time?
A: I keep my home life very separate from my work life. I think that it is important to have this balance. While I am not always successful, I do not want to be thinking about work when I am trying to be focused on my family. I also play a little tennis. But the best way to get away from the pressures of the job is to turn off the phone and email and spend time with the family.

In September, Tourism Minister Hon Edmund Bartlett appointed William Tatham to Jamaica’s newly formed and 13-member National Cruise Council. The NSC is charged with monitoring global cruise shipping trends and strategically safeguarding relationships with cruiseship operators while enhancing the experience of passengers visiting Jamaica.