The Caribbean is by far the most popular destination for cruise lines worldwide, and with the tremendous growth the industry is experiencing, tourism stakeholders have been given some advice on how we can revamp their product to capitalize on it.
The insight came during a two-day workshop staged by the Barbados Tourism Product Authority and the newly formed Cruise Commission at the Radisson Aquatica Hotel, where stakeholders heard from representatives of the Aquila Centre for Cruise Excellence, which is based in New Brunswick, Canada.
Officials from the island’s tourism marketing agencies, the Barbados Port Inc., tour companies, visitor attractions and the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation were in attendance.
“Your real competition in Barbados is not the other Caribbean islands, but other regions in the world, said International Business Development Manager with the Aquila Centre, Claudine Pohl. “Right now, the Caribbean represents 39 per cent of the overall cruise market, but the Mediterranean, at 17 per cent, is growing rapidly, as well as Asia. Also, in 2018 some 27 million people are expected to take cruises, which is up from 17 million in 2009. And what will it be in 2028, when 112 new vessels are expected to come on stream between now and then?”
Pohl, whose company is the official training arm of the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association, noted that while the number of mega-ships [those carrying between 2,500 and 6,000] was increasing, niche markets catering to smaller numbers were growing as well.
“Millennials in particular do not really want to go on the big ships; they prefer a more intimate experience where they can truly explore a specific destination. More upscale travellers want to go as far as staying at people’s homes and partaking of freshly cooked meals with them. The smaller vessels they travel on carry between 100 and 700 passengers, and they pay an average of US$5,000 as opposed to the US$1,500 they would pay on a bigger ship. El Salvador has concentrated on this market and has done quite well so far, and this is a niche Barbados can consider exploring further.”
She also reminded the stakeholders that the four major players (namely Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Lines and MSC) had several different cruise lines under their wings, and warned Barbados not to “put all [its] eggs in one basket”.
Citing an example, Pohl stated that “Carnival Corporation controls 44 per cent of the world market and its brands include Princess, P & O, Costa, Cunard, Aida and Holland America. Some years ago, a country in Latin America which relied heavily on Carnival’s lines ran into major trouble when a passenger on board a Holland America cruise was shot and killed in a botched robbery attempt, and the corporation withdrew all of its vessels from that market. Always ensure you establish relationships with more than one of the corporations so you have a backup if these situations arise.”
Pohl said based on surveys, Americans represented 11.5 per cent of all cruise passengers, with China and Germany in second and third place respectively, “so it is important that tour representatives familiarize themselves with Mandarin Chinese and German and have signage which reflects that.” She also told the stakeholders what they should bear in mind when creating new visitor experiences.
“Visitors look for a ‘wow’ factor in any given destination. They want to learn something new, experience personal growth, they want ‘bragging rights’ among their peers, they want to have fun, and they want a product that gives them value for time and value for money. Once you can give them all of those things, you are on the right track.”