The art of shaping shore excursions

We find out how destinations and shorex providers manage the demands of cruise lines and their guests
The art of shaping shore excursions
Visitors to Tortola benefit from new facilities at the port

By Guest |

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2016 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

Most destinations have particular elements that, properly packaged, can add up to fabulous shore excursion experiences for guests – the trick is to communicate those elements as selling points that cruise operators can use. “From our perspective, it is important for cruise passengers to come early or stay late to experience the destination beyond the embarkation point and explore it as a first port of call,” says Ellen Kennedy, assistant director of business development/communications at the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau in Florida’s Port Everglades. “Early arrival makes travel easier, calmer and a more pleasant complete experience.”

Many attractions are within easy reach of the port, says Kennedy. “Our Cruise & Play offerings focus on those that are within a short distance from Port Everglades and including shopping, natural wonders, arts & culture and waterways tours. These have been very popular with cruisers that have just a few hours to spare before leaving for the airport.”

With over 280,000 passengers due to call this year, Le Havre in the heart of Normandy makes good use of its Tourism Board’s cruise and shorex departments, which cooperate with cruise lines’ tour operators. Several regional and national tour operators are members of Le Havre Cruise Club, which is managed by the Tourism Board. Understanding what cruise guests want is crucial, as director of cruise Valérie Conan explains: “Our main concern is to find the right balance between the number of passengers that we attract to the local territory and the number of passengers who will go on a tour in Normandy or Paris. “Our services work constantly with cruise lines and their tour operators to develop the tours that they can sell onboard.” During 2016, the Normandy Impressionist Festival will be a drawcard, and next year the port city celebrates its 500th anniversary.

In the port of Ireland’s capital city, Dublin, urban history and tradition vie with action adventures for shorex revenue. There is currently a trend towards smaller, more action-based excursions, says Michael Lennon of the Dublin Port Company, “for example, biking in the Dublin Mountains which are 30 minutes away from the port. Dublin Port Company is open to working with cruise lines and the shore excursion companies operating on their behalf as to how these could be facilitated and developed with other stakeholders as appropriate.”

He adds, however: “From discussions with shore excursion companies here in the port, the ‘traditional’ excursions to the city centre and further afield to Glendalough remain very popular as they give cruise line passengers a distinct choice between city experience or ancient Ireland experience.”

Lennon says: “Feedback received from the excursion companies and from the cruise lines indicates that passengers are very happy with the current product offering.”

Facilitating access to nature-themed excursions, whether activity-based or more relaxed, is the key to successful shore excursions for Stéphane Sainte-Croix of Escale Gaspésie in Quebec, Canada. Speaking of the picturesque Penouille Peninsula in Forillon National Park, he says: “This sandy spit of land in the Bay of Gaspé is bordered by a beautiful beach that is popular for all types of water sports. You can hop on a shuttle which circles the peninsula to learn about the boreal forest, or discover birdlife, plants and wildlife thriving in the salt marsh. If segways are your thing, follow your guide as you learn about the Native Mi’kmaq Nation, whale hunting and so much more. Take a bicycle or quadracycle for a spin and follow the boardwalk which leads to the waterfront, a great place for a picnic.”

Peter Juhl of Destination Bornholm in Denmark also highlights the growing interest in excursions that spark the imagination of guests: “I think that people want to see new places and new things that not so many people have seen – something where they are part of it.”

From bike trips of the island to a trip called Gourmet Bornholm, there are plenty of options available, says Juhl, who emphasises the importance of acting on feedback from guests. “In 2014 we made some interviews on some of the buses. Most of the guests were more than satisfied with the trips but needed something more from the guides.” The company took action accordingly on that score.

Dona Regis, CEO of Tortola Pier Park in the British Virgin Islands, says: “In my experience the three essential factors that combine to deliver a great cruise destination are people, infrastructure and activities. The people of the British Virgin Islands provide a very special welcome to our cruise visitors – not just at the port but at every interaction point, from both trained tourism professionals and the wider general public. With the completion of the extended cruise pier and the broad range of facilities at the Tortola Pier Park we now have the facilities infrastructure to accommodate every size of ship and we have an enviable depth of professional service providers to ensure an efficient visit.”

Regis says that passenger feedback is a key contributor to a programme of continuous improvement. “All of the guest experience data that we collect is shared in working groups, committees and other meetings and actions are taken to ensure that our destination continues to deliver beyond expectations for both the visiting cruise lines and their guests. Every stakeholder group is represented in one or more of our regular forums.”

As ship sizes continue to increase, ports must be ready to host larger numbers in fewer calls per year. Port Atlantique La Rochelle received 20 calls in 2014, with a total of 28,000 transit passengers. Marie Guegan from La Rochelle comments: “The number of call is stable (20 – 25 per year) but the number of passengers is growing because we have more and more bigger ships.” This trend means that smaller ports must build in flexibility to cope with high demand spread across fewer calls.

Whatever the size and frequency of calls, destinations must work hard to ensure good relationships with cruise line companies when it comes to the excursions.

Lennon of the Port of Dublin has the following advice for destinations in this regard: “Try and identify trends that the cruise line companies are picking up from passengers or prospective passengers and then work with excursion companies to see how trends could be packaged and offered in a cost effective manner.”

Regarding Destination Bornholm’s approach to relationships with the cruise lines, Juhl says: “We talk about special wishes and if there are any problems, we solve them together before the guest leaves the island.”

Conan’s counsel, based on her experience of promoting excursions in Le Havre, is to “be proactive: work closely with the cruise lines’ tour operators to inform them about the new offers – they don’t always know our regions as well as we do. Invite them to join a cruise club to network. For the cruise lines’ shorex department, search for tailored offers (adapted to the type of customers – to the nationality or the age for example). Post news about new offers on cruise associations’ websites of which you are a member.”

Finally, says Conan: “Always keep total confidentiality about your discussions with cruise lines and their tour operators.”

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