Spending up but passenger satisfaction down, says survey

The world economy may be struggling but cruise spending is up in our region, according to a report by the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association.

The report, commissioned by Business Research and Economic Advisors, surveyed 29 destinations. According to BREA, regional cruise tourism during the period of 2008-09 generated 1.78 billion Cayman Islands Dollars in direct expenditure.

Fifty-six thousand jobs were created for ports and businesses in the Caribbean, Florida and Latin America, and the figure for employee wages was $583 Million.

At a conference in St Lucia, President of the FCCA Michele M. Paige said it was ‘wonderful news’ but she was ‘not surprised.’

‘FCCA members are known for seeing opportunities – not obstacles,’ she explained.

The report analysed spending by passengers, crew and cruise lines throughout Central and South America, Caribbean and Mexico during the period of November 2008-April 2009.

17.56 million cruise passengers in the 29 destinations surveyed spent $1.385 billion in total, with an average of 52 per cent purchasing tours and shore excursions.

They generated a total of $265.68 million for tour operators. Other major expenditure by the passengers included $513.5 million on watches and jewellery, $136 million on clothing and $132.8 million for other goods and services.

The 3.24 million crew members, meanwhile, spent $234 million on clothing, food, beverages, electronics, jewellery perfumes and cosmetics. The cruise lines’ port fees, taxes, utilities, navigation services and supplies spend was $226.7 million.

According to Department Of Tourism data, 1.45 million cruise passengers arrived in Cayman during the period, of which an estimated ninety per cent (1.31 million passengers) disembarked here.

2,170 surveys were completed and of these 63 per cent were first-time visitors to Cayman. 91 per cent of respondents disembarked, with 89 per cent making at least one purchase. A typical cruise party was 2.3 passengers, spending 4.3 hours on shore.

The BREA report estimated that of the 571,291 crew aboard the ships, 35 per cent disembarked on the island. In total, these visits by passengers and crew, plus cruise line expenditures, came to $141.26 million during the cruise year which ran from May 2008 to April 2009. The figure for passengers alone was $102.06 million.

Each passenger cruise party, said the report, spent an average of $180.3 whilst in the Cayman Islands. 59 per cent of all passengers embarked on shore excursions, spending an average of $52.27 per party, whilst the 55 per cent of onshore visitors who visited restaurants and bars spent $30.53. Other significant onshore draws were clothing (42 per cent of passengers, spending on average $ 43.50) and local crafts and souvenirs (41 per cent, $26.73).

And the 21 per cent of disembarked passengers that bought watches and jewellery spent a whopping $352 each. Nightclubs and entertainment, while comprising a mere 1 per cent of onshore visits, returned a healthy $92.01 per cruise party.

During the period, crew visits generated an estimated $17.65 million from the 199,952 crew members. The vast majority of crew visits (74 per cent) to the shore were to restaurants and bars, with average spend $26.89. 13 per cent of onshore visits were for watches and jewellery, with each crew spend being on average $172.53, with the 3 per cent buying electronics spending $188.73 each and nightclubs (2 per cent) showing an average $166.69.

The report noted that these expenditures generated direct employment for 2,073 residents and $31.347 million in wages, with indirect employment resulting from local businesses bolstering the total to 3,731 employed at wages of $56.295 million.

Although the figures are solid in the current financial climate, total passenger and crew visits are down 22 percent in comparison to a previous 2005/06 study, and although passenger expenditure as a whole fell marginally in the intervening three years from $145.55 million to $141.26 the average per passenger expenditure actually rose 17 per cent, mostly due to increased spending on food and beverages, jewellery and local crafts. Crew expenditure rose 136 per cent with crew spending on shore dramatically increasing, for example 74 per cent reporting on-shore food purchases compared to the 2005-06 study’s 34 per cent.

The decrease in direct tourism expenditure was noted by the report, which also said that the economic impact had marginally increased. While the total employment impact had remained virtually unchanged over the three-year period, the wage impact had risen by 5 per cent. This was down to increases in labour productivity and average wages over the intervening period.

Passenger satisfaction statistics were also collected on a scale of 1-10, where 9 and 10 meant ‘Extremely Satisfied’; 7 and 8 ‘Very Satisfied’; ‘5-6 ‘Somewhat Satisfied’; 3-4 ‘Not Too Satisfied’ and 1-2 ‘Not At All Satisfied’.

Overall, passenger visit satisfaction scored a respectable 7.4 average (‘Very Satisfied’), with a score of 6.9 for ‘Visit Met Expectations’, falling in the ‘Somewhat Satisfied’ bracket.

While on island, shore excursions scored 7.6 for satisfaction, which BREA notes is lower than the general destination score of 8.0 or above. Passengers praised the ‘friendliness of residents’ and ‘courtesy of employees’, each at 7.9 out of ten.

Other categories in which passengers felt ‘Very Satisfied’ were initial welcome, overall shopping experience, variety of shops and local transportation.

Historic sites, variety of things to do and overall prices all fell within the ‘Somewhat Satisfied’ bracket.

The likelihood of a return visit for a land-based vacation for the cruise ship passengers responding to the survey over the period, however, was a lowly 4.7 (‘Not Too Likely’).

96 per cent of the responding passengers hailed from the United States or Canada. The average age was 50 years and older with 24 per cent 65. Average household income for passengers coming to the Cayman Islands was $100,000 US and 38 per cent had a household income of over US$100,000.