South-pacific.travel chief executive Tony Everitt believes the time is now right for the Pacific to take advantage of the booming global cruise business.
He and his team from south-pacific.travel have put together a strategy known as South Pacific Cruise Ship Strategy that he hopes will see the Pacific grab a little bit more share of the multi-billion industry.
At present, the region gets less than two percent share of the global cruise tourism sector.
Knowing it will be tough to implement the strategy, Everitt is optimistic it is the way forward for the region’s tourism industry.
Despite the increasing fuel price which is hurting the tourism industry and the real estate problems in the USA, United Kingdom and New Zealand—where most of our tourists come from—the cruise business is still booming, he says.
“It’s a little over 60 years since the end of the war that has become a legendary part of the Pacific history. Children of those servicemen from Japan, America, Australasia and Europe are now retiring.
“They are kids who grew up in the golden ages—1950s and 60s in USA and Australasia, 70s and 80s in Japan.
“They are real estate executives and their kids have graduated from college. They are retiring, they have the time and money and they want to see the world from the luxury of a ship,” Everitt says.
According to him, global cruise passengers have increased from less than 4 million in 1990 to over 11 million in 2005, and there would be an increase of 34 percent in capacity next year with ships currently under construction.
“The new mega-liners carrying 4000 passengers being unleashed into the Caribbean mean that many of the smaller ships will need to be redeployed. And what better place to be redeployed than the South Pacific,” he says.
There are four beacons of the strategic plan but there is no timeline set for their implementation.
“We are working on it now and we have not set a time period, but it is going to take a few years,” Everitt says.
Beacon I aims to improve shore excursions for tourists from cruise ships.
“This is important since we need to create a variety of professional and fully insured shore excursions. We need to improve on hospitality, safety and security issues because cruise passengers are mostly elderly persons who have retired. They don’t just want to come in and hop on a bus. They would want to interact with the people,” Everitt says.
Beacon I also stresses quality shopping, high level guiding and developing community level products.
Beacon II focuses on improving navigational charts, having accurate hydrographic charts and investing in landing infrastructure.
While Beacon III emphasises management—improving and encouraging private partnerships and regional cooperation.
“In aviation, people just fly to one South Pacific destination and fly back, in cruises people can actually visit several destinations.
“Passengers don’t want to be at sea for days and days, so it is logical for islands to work together,” Everitt says.
Beacon IV is on marketing—having cruise zones by “parcelling” islands together, having comprehensive information and promoting the South Pacific region.
“There can be six sub-regions and it would be logical to have Fiji, Tonga and Samoa as one zone.
“We need to be more pro-active, we need to go out to them.
‘Everyone needs to be involved, every country should and south-pacific.travel is volunteering to lead the strategy.
With 557 cruise visits to the South Pacific in the 2007-2008 period (source: South-Pacific.Travel) spending an estimated US$30 million, Everitt believes it is a good base but there are opportunities to get even more.
The three countries standing out in attracting cruise ships are French Polynesia, Vanuatu and Kiribati. Cook Islands and Fiji are closely behind.
French Polynesia accounted for 257 of the total cruise visits, while Vanuatu had 96 and Kiribati 49 visits. Passenger spending is estimated to be close to US$33million.
According to the South Pacific Cruise Shipping Development Strategy, the major constraints to attracting more cruise ships to the region would be competition from other Asian destinations, availability of bunker fuel, and high port pricing.
The region, however, would not have any problems with the friendliness of the workers, as a survey conducted among cruise liners found.
There were low ratings for safety/medical facilities and port cleanliness, ground handling quality and access to provisions and cruise related infrastructure.
“Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga and the Solomons are in their own category. These are the typical South Sea islands that have minimal sights and shopping is local shopping and not for the international traveller.
“Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu and French Polynesia have the infrastructure and the sights to see. The ground-handling services are also fine and there are plenty of restaurants and shops.
“Fiji has political problems which raises the question of safety of passengers.
“Papua New Guinea has some very interesting sights but facilities are basic and there is a problem with safety.
“Kiribati, Nauru, Niue and Tuvalu are untouched by tourism and there is a need for all services to be improved,” one of those questioned in the survey said.
Most of the other comments were on the product while one said that of all the 13 member countries of south-pacific-travel, French Polynesia was the only mature destination offering excellent brand awareness though Fiji is more interesting, has excellent marketing appeal and good berthing facilities.
Another noted that South Pacific products “generally deliver very well because of the warmth and friendliness of the local population”.
But one warned that South Pacific cruises were very difficult to sell to repeat passengers. One American itinerary planner said each destination was the same for Americans— beaches, palm trees, thatched roofs, the hula—only a different flag flying and Americans don’t know the difference between them.
Cruise lines that have never visited the Pacific say geographic distance and lack of attractions were their reasons of not coming over.