Can Cruising Shape Overnight Tourism?

This week I’m in the Cook Islands, arguably one of the most beautiful places in the South Pacific.  15 islands make up the Cook Islands, but the two most visited are Rarotonga and Aitutaki.  They complement each other well as they are very different.  Rarotonga is mountainous with impressive peaks, lush with vegetation, whilst Aitutaki is a low-lying coral atoll with one of the most picturesque lagoons in the Pacific.

We are here starting a cruise survey, which will run for the next five months, in both Rarotonga and Aitutaki.  Not all cruise ships stop at both destinations, some just go to Rarotonga, but it will be interesting to see what the different findings are between the two destinations.

One of the challenges cruise destinations face is distinguishing themselves from other destinations where cruise ships also stop at.  If visitors remember a specific destination, they are more likely to talk about it with their friends and relatives when they get home, and more likely to come back to visit as a (potentially) more lucrative land-based overnight tourist.

We have recently completed a similar survey in Vanuatu, interviewing in the capital Port Vila, and a small island called Mystery Island, which is little more than a very picturesque sand bank right in the south of the group of islands that make up Vanua

The findings from the survey showed that whilst visitors spent a lot less on Mystery Island (which wasn’t a surprise as there is less to spend your money on there), their levels of satisfaction were much higher than in Port Vila.  It is clear that Mystery Island provides a much better advert for Vanuatu than the bustling Port Vila, where the scramble to make money from cruise visitors is highly evident.

This raises an interesting discussion, for which I don’t at present have the answer.  Might it be better to develop cruisedestinations that provide entertainment and a relaxing atmosphere for visitors at the expense of trying to make as much money as possible, thereby leaving them with the greatest desire to return as a much more lucrative overnight visitor?

Cruising in the South Pacific, in particular on cruise ships from Australia, has grown rapidly over the last few years.  It could be the ideal catalyst for growing the overnight tourism sector as well.  But destinations that leave the best lasting impression on cruise visitors will surely benefit the most.

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Putting on a Show for Cruise Visitors in Tonga

I’m in Tonga this week launching a cruise visitor survey.  It’s turning out to be a very refreshing experience.

Unlike the boom cruise destinations in the South Pacific of New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Fiji, Tonga only receives around 16 cruise vessels each year.  Its distance from Australia (in particular, and less so New Zealand) means that it’s out of reach of the short (less than 10 day) cruises that are becoming so popular in those countries.

Consequently cruise passengers are valued here, and appreciated more than they are in many of the busier destinations.  To maximise the experience of visitors, the key stakeholders in Tonga have set up a Cruise Committee to coordinate music and dancing to welcome the visitors, tours, transport and shopping experiences. Educating local people on how to deal with visitors is also part of the scheme.

The arrival of the Sea Princess yesterday, carrying almost 2,000 passengers, was the first test of this new strategy.  My part of the proceedings was to organise a team of eight interviewers at the wharf to find out Tonga had fared.

It seems like all the hard work paid off.  The survey showed that almost one third of all visitors would like to return to Tonga for a land-based holiday.  Cruise passengers returning for a longer holiday is a great marketing spin-off from cruising. And expenditure was mainly on local handicrafts and tours, so the local economy stands to benefit with few leakages.

Cruise itineraries tend to be characterised by visits to destinations that are (on the face of it) quite similar, in particular Pacific and Caribbean cruises. So standing out by going that extra mile for visitors is important. The destinations that the cruise passengers remember when they get home will be the ones most likely to benefit from future visits, and also referrals to friends and relatives.

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