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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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.