Improving the product to win cruisers back

Cayman’s comprehensive programme to convert cruise tourists to stayover guests has recently been unveiled by the Department of Tourism. Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull places the cruise industry under a microscope as it relates to Cayman, examining ways to enhance the cruise passenger experience so that they will want to choose Cayman for a longer vacation destination in the future.  Second in a two part series.

Cruise tourism has developed in Cayman to such a vital level that it accounted for US$69.5 million in employee wages from May 2008 to April 2009, according to a survey carried out by the Business Research and Economic Advisors for the Florida and Caribbean Cruise Association. The survey, titled Economic Contribution of Cruise Tourism to the Destination Economies, also found that cruise tourism accounted for US$174,400,000 in cruise tourism expenditure into the economy as well as providing 3,731 jobs in the Cayman Islands.
 
The survey also found that the Cayman Islands ranked high in the overall list of top cruise destinations for visitors (in order of favour – the US Virgin Islands, Cozumel, the Bahamas, St Maarten, Puerto Rico, the Cayman Islands and Jamaica). These destinations accounted for 69 per cent of the total cruise tourism expenditure among the 29 destinations surveyed.

The competition
St Maarten, it seems, has got it right when it comes to managing its cruise tourism. Consistently rating high in the survey, the destination has enacted a systematic plan for the island in which new developments to enhance the industry have been put in place in stages, after careful consultation with the private and public sectors.
 
Theo Heyliger, St Maarten’s former commissioner for Tourism, Economic Affairs, Harbour & Energy, has been a champion of the development. At the FCCA conference held in Cayman in 2006, He described the importance the island had placed on changing the entire cruise visitor experience for the better, with private sector buy-in, which he readily admitted, took some persuasion, but produced astonishing results.
 
There had been a massive renovation programme to ensure that the harbour front was appealing to cruise visitors with the building of a new promenade that skirts the beach. Traffic alleviation systems were put in place, including the use of innovative ideas such as the introduction of a water taxi system, thus integrating the port facility with an overall urban plan.
 
At the conference, Heyliger explained how cruise visitors are moved directly and quickly into the island’s capital, Philipsburg, in order to have them spend as much as possible on island before returning to the port and its facilities and (hopefully) spending more at that point as well.
 
Heyliger said, “All sectors benefit from the superior product.”
 
A recent report in St Maarten’s Daily Herald highlighted the fact that the destination came in tops when it comes to cruise visitor spending. The article read: “The numbers are interesting, because they debunk the myth that cruise ship passengers don’t spend money in port and just buy a T-shirt or souvenirs, that sort of thing,” said Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines Vice-President for Commercial Development John Tercek during a presentation to the Tourism Symposium at the Radisson Hotel.
 
A large ship of 3,000 passengers generates $560,000 in one day for the local economy, while a four-ship day visit brings in $2,000,000, he noted. That’s $200 million per year pumped into the local economy.
 
According to the surveys, cruise passengers are becoming more adventurous, spending more on excursions, but less on other items and goods. The average spend per passenger on an excursion is now $50, up from $44 in 2005.
 
“People are spending more money in St. Maarten than in other islands, because the offers are very attractive,” he added. “St. Maarten is one of the best perceived cruise ports in the Caribbean and I can say that without any hesitation. It’s easy to sell, people want to do it, cruise ships want to come here and the Government does a great job in expanding the port facilities to accommodate the growth.”
 
But there is a great deal more competition for Cayman out there than just St Maarten.
 
Brynley Davies says: “Cayman has a very inferior product when you compare us to both our immediate geographical competition and also the best in class ports like St Maarten in the eastern Caribbean. In our immediate vicinity Jamaica has Ochio Rios, which is a very old port, but even that has a better experience than Cayman currently does.
 
However, Jamaica is also building a new port at Falmouth, which will significantly enhance the overall guest experience. To our other side, Cozumel has a range of options depending what pier you end up in, from older infrastructure to very modern. Again all of these provide a better experience than we currently do. The competition in our geographical market is now heating up big time with ports in Roatan coming on line and Costa Meyer, south of Cozumel, reopening after hurricane damage. Labadee in Haiti, which is Royal Caribbean International’s private island, has undergone substantial improvements including the creating of a docking facility and new entertainment attractions.”
 
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. is the second largest cruise line in the world (Carnival Cruises takes the top spot) and has invested in 14 project companies in eight countries around the world, including a total US$38 million investment in Roatan in Honduras, and a massive US$220 million investment in Falmouth, Jamaica. Other investments include St. John Port in Antigua and Castries Port in St. Lucia. With such large investments they will most certainly be ensuring that they get their returns from these destinations over others in the region.
 
Although the Caribbean accounts for the largest amount of ships by RCCL (the company deployed 17 to the Caribbean out of 35 ships worldwide during the winter of 2009), RCCL is constantly looking at other destinations, such as the Antarctic, Southeast and Northeast Brazil and the southernmost cone of South America. This means that competition comes not only from Cayman’s local jurisdiction but further afield as well.
 
Experts believe that every ship that comes to Cayman and leaves with any dissatisfied customers is an opportunity lost for the Islands. Any steps, whether small or large, to enhance the overall experience and therefore give a better impression of the island will go a long way to securing a repeat and hopefully longer visit in the future.

ImproveSM

Experts believe that every ship that comes to Cayman and leaves with any dissatisfied customers is an opportunity lost for the Islands.

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