Cruise tourism…how good (or bad) is it?

There is much debate about the value of cruise visitors to a destination, and has been for some time.

I’ve just arrived in Vanuatu, as small country in the South Pacific, that is experiencing an extraordinary growth in cruise visitors – 155,000 in 2011, increasing to 215,000 in 2012.  Early indications show that 2013 will at least maintain the level of arrivals experienced in 2012.

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In Vanuatu we are implementing a cruise survey to try to measure the impact all these visitors have on the local economy.  Compared to air visitor surveys, cruise surveys are easy.  So many variables that need to be considered for air visitors (are they bonafide tourists for a start?…What is their purpose of visit?…How long do they stay?…Where do they stay?) do not enter the equation.  Cruise visitors are virtually always travelling for leisure, they don’t stay in accommodation on land, and their expenditure is relatively simple.  Shopping usually makes up the bulk of expenditure, with a small amount of spend on food and drink.

However, the biggest difficulty tends to be dealing with shore excursions.  There is considerable money in these for both the cruise lines who sell them, and the local people providing the tours and experiences in the destination.  When analysing the surveys, account must be taken of the commission taken by the cruise lines or tour operators selling the shore excursions, as this will not reach the local economy, and it is often at least 50% of the sale price.

It will be interesting to see what the findings are in six months time when the survey is complete.  In other destinations where we are currently working, such as the Falkland Islands, there is a noticeable trend in declining expenditure by cruise passengers, as more and more spend their budget on the cruise itself, and leave very little for extras on their voyage.