Encouraging destinations to find fresh ways of appealing to repeat cruise visitors continues to be the message from the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) to its partner destinations.
Some, such as Colombia – the FCCA held a successful 2013 conference in the city of Cartagena – may find it easier to attract calls given that for around 90% or more of cruise passengers it will be their first visit to the country, believes FCCA president Michele Paige. “They are razzle-dazzled by what Colombia has to offer, while well-established destination such as the US Virgin Islands have to reinvent themselves because a lot of people have been there before – perhaps 50% or a little more,” she says. “Maybe they loved it but they have been, so they won’t necessarily be going back. That’s why destinations need to keep themselves fresh, by constantly upgrading the service and tweaking their offerings. After all, that’s what the cruise lines do.”
Adam Ceserano, FCCA senior vice president, agrees. “If you look at the last 20 years of not just the cruise industry, but the ships themselves – there’s innovation everywhere,” he says. “Ships today are not the same ships that were sailing 20 years ago. I would challenge anyone to look around the Caribbean and say: ‘what’s changed’? Maybe we would find a few destinations, so we’re going to partner those and you can see that those are the ones that are growing.”
Customs, history, sights and attractions – not only manmade, but the natural beauty of a country and its landscape too – should be cultivated to highlight what a destination is all about, Paige believes.
“Mexico is a good example,” she says. “Americans often think that ‘Mexico is Mexico’. But nothing is further from the truth. Every region has totally different costumes, cuisine and excursions – their climates are even different. You go to Mexico City thinking you are going to be in the tropics and you freeze – the average winter climate is 6oC – and that’s part of the education. After a cruise passenger has visited a destination they should know everything about it and be able to showcase what it is to their friends at home.”
Another aspect to differentiating destinations is taking care of the crew, according to Paige. “That’s one of the aspects that caught us by surprise,” she explains. “We’ve always talked about the opportunities that the crew bring – they’re goodwill ambassadors so educate them and they’ll educate the passengers.
“Yes, they spend money. But the FCCA economic impact study shows that what the crew spends is astronomical – in some destinations more than the passengers. Make it accessible and underline what it is that sets you apart – not just hamburgers and fries – and explain it. This way, you are selling your destination.”
On what is stopping destinations from picking up the innovation gauntlet, Paige is clear. “I think the biggest obstacle is that sometimes we all have the problem of not looking at ourselves realistically,” she says. “We look at ourselves in isolation instead of our place in the world. A world has opened up beyond the Caribbean, so destinations cannot look at themselves in isolation or simply compare to their Caribbean brothers. They must look at the world and keep up with the world product. For me that’s the most challenging – how to communicate that just because you’ve been successful it doesn’t translate into a continual success.”
The reason the FCCA exists is because ships are going to call where people want to visit. The association’s commitment is to work with destinations so that they remain appealing, although destinations are responsible for their own future, Paige believes. “If destinations don’t do what is necessary to keep their product fresh then we’re going to take tourists to other places because this is our business, although we don’t want to do that,” she says. “Relocating a ship costs us money, so it’s better that destinations understand that they are responsible, not us. Often when they meet with the cruise executives they will say ‘please call’. However, it’s not about that, but working on your offering so you that you create a demand product we can sell.
“We sometimes hear that the private sector is the weakest link in well-established destinations. They will say ‘I have run this tour successfully for 20 years’, but that’s the problem. If I’ve been on a tour, I’m not going to go on the same tour – you’ve got to sell me something different. It could be the same thing, but made more exciting. That’s our message to both the private and public sector – keep your identity, but continually change it up so that it excites people and they want to come back.”
One way the FCCA helps to tackle this thinking is through its free training. “We’re telling our partners to set themselves apart, that the most important ingredient is the training and one of the most important ingredients is your tour product and that you have to have guides that have been extremely well trained,” Paige explains. “We have a Platinum Member – Aquila Center of Excellence, a Canadian tour operator – which is helping us in this aspect.”
Ceserano adds: “The Aquila Centre for Excellence works very closely – not just with the FCCA but with all our member lines – to find out what they need from the tour executives, what is lacking and what they can do to improve the tour. They start by helping the tour guide understand that they are probably 90% of the tour. Being the person making it fun and interactive, and bringing all the elements of the tour together comes down to the tour guide.”
Alongside Aquila’s training, the FCCA delivers workshop programmes for the local private sector such as taxi drivers and ground operators, with two different training programmes. Taxi Pride covers courtesy and professionalism, marketing, and rules and safety, while Service Excellence highlights the economic impact of cruise tourism and how partner destinations can maximise visitor satisfaction.
Ceserano says: “We’re going to be re-inventing the FCCA training this year with a second edition in 2014 – essentially a refresher – so we can continue training throughout the destinations. We’ve probably trained 30 different destinations over the last 10 years, so we’ve definitely had our reach in terms of helping our partner destinations.”
This article appeared in the Spring/Summer 2014 edition of International Cruise & Ferry Review. To read the full article, you can subscribe to the magazine in printed or digital formats.