2010 ends on high cruise note

Cruise numbers in November and December are set to end the year on a high note, with numbers beating all years since 2006.

Official figures from the Cayman Islands Port Authority indicate that November was 30 per cent busier than in 2009. A total of 154,258 passengers arrived from 60 cruise calls, while 2009’s total was 118,292 from 44 calls. Last year’s figures were affected slightly by two missed calls, one due to technical difficulties and the other because of Tropical Storm Ida.

Hurricanes also affected the figures for November 2008 as Paloma and other inclement weather meant six missed calls, which reduced that year’s numbers by 12,171 passengers, making the total 117,221. Two calls were lost in November 2007 due to a mixture of bad weather and mechanical problems, making the final total 137,234 that year.

December also looks set to be a bumper month for Cayman, with the total potential passengers according to the schedule list reaching 193,148 passengers from 77 total calls, if all ships are at capacity. This would be the largest number of cruise arrivals since 2006, when 210,247 tourists visited the Cayman Islands.

If the December figures reach capacity, Cayman would end 2010 on a total of 1,615,393 passengers, which would be the highest number since 2007, when a total of 1,715,666 visitor arrivals was registered.

Fewer calls

However, the Cayman Islands will be hit during the cruise tourism season following the news that the islands will receive 54 fewer calls from Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises and Celebrity Cruises in 2011. This constitutes a 26 per cent decrease, and a 23 per cent decrease in visitors over the next year.

Given the decreases, plus continued economic uncertainty in the United States’ economy, it is important to pursue additional opportunities, said Robert Hamaty of Tortuga Rum Company.

“George Town has become a ghost town without the cruise tourists. The island has grown and different complexes such as Governor’s Square, Camana Bay, and things like Savannah plaza [have grown], which is normal, and business people in George Town have taken advantage of having outlets [in other places, such as The Strand]. A lot of people, be they on-island residents or stay-over tourists in the hotels, don’t really need to come into George Town like they used to.

“Saturday used to be a very, very busy day in George Town for all the hotel visitors because Sunday is a busy airline day and it was their last opportunity to do their shopping in town, so stores used to open until four or five o’clock in the evening, but you don’t see that anymore,” said Mr. Hamaty.

Nonetheless, retailers report that as a result of the traffic boost, there has been a positive effect on sales. Alexandre Tabacoff noted that their sales increase had been higher than the 30 per cent cruise traffic increase.

“This is due to the success of our new Pandora Concept store, the two Watch.Me stores at Island Plaza and Camana Bay and our newly opened Island Time/Philip Stein store downtown.

“It is also interesting to see that the large range of products and prices available at our jewellery and watch stores has allowed us to catch a lot of new customers. We all need traffic increase, but Island Companies has done a great job to deliver a lot of store and assortment novelties this year, and this is what our customers want,” said the chief executive officer of the company.

Stated strategy

For some businesses, it has become a key part of stated strategy to take care of all visitors, not just the ones that come by sea. Bud Johnson, general manager of Atlantis Submarines, told the Compass that the numbers did not necessarily tell the whole story from their point of view.

“Increasing cruise arrivals are both good and bad. The primary factor in this is the number of cruise passengers in port on any one day. Have you ever been in Miami International Immigration at rush hour on a weekend? Does it make you want to return soon to spend more time? What the comfortable cruise passenger capacity per day is can be debated.

“Those businesses with the long-term interest of Cayman tourism [in mind] will tell you that we do exceed that number frequently in the winter season. Granted, in these economic times we appreciate the business, but we also need to be cognizant of the experience that we give to the 1.6 million cruise passengers, if we truly have the long-term interest of Cayman tourism at heart,” said Mr. Johnson.

He added that the increase in arrivals plus less weather downtime had led to a 15 per cent increase in business for Atlantis, and that it is important to continue to follow strategy while building in an element of daily flexibility.

“We for example do rely heavily on the overnight guests, and on some busy days we have not given space to some cruise ships. Tough call, but businesses have to believe in their plan and strategy and stick to it,” he said, explaining that relationships with hotels also form an important part of business for some tourism-related businesses on the island.

Mr. Tabacoff said that there is, on average, a four-hour window for retailers to convert cruise traffic into sales, requiring a specific skill set and focus.

“This is a very short time window. Only the retailers that are well organised will take profit of the traffic increase; you need a lot of salespeople in the stores, a good training plan, good marketing tools to drive up traffic and sales, and a top customer service,” he added.

Promotion needed

Mr. Hamaty of Tortuga said that increased cruise numbers are always a genuine boost to business, and noted that according to figures released by the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association, 36,000 additional passengers spending an average of $97.68 each on land would bring in approximately $3.5 million to the economy. In addition to this are other financial elements, including port head taxes, tender fees and the trickle-down effect of more hours and overtime for hourly employees. However, there is a wider discussion to be had regarding what potential exists for further business centred around the Caymanian capital once the last tender has taken the final cruise tourists back to their ship each night, he said.

“Obviously any shop owner in George Town is glad to see the pick-up in cruise visitors because we’re now cruise-dependent; look at the evenings, as soon as places close, people are gone and they don’t hang around in George Town like they used to in the evenings, going to different restaurants or for a drink.

“The town is lovely but needs people to market and promote it, just like Camana Bay does, [but at the moment] there’s no association of businesspeople working together to create activity and everything is moving out of the area. Everybody could survive if people got together to do something. The town could come alive with people,” he said.

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