This article was first published in Itinerary Planning Special Report 2015
Having captained ships for over 25 years, Windstar Cruises’ Sander Groothius knows the challenges of choosing which new ports to add to an itinerary only too well. The key to success, he says, is by seeing new locations through the eyes of the customer.
“It’s very important to physically visit the port before adding it to an itinerary as what it looks like on paper could be quite different to the reality,” Groothius explains. “It’s important to put yourself in your customers’ shoes during these visits to understand exactly how they will feel when they arrive in dock.”
According to Groothius, there are a wide number of factors that can impact the customer experience. “We want to ensure they arrive somewhere appealing – somewhere with a good vibe,” he says. “From the moment they step off the gangway we want them to feel a sense of enticement.
“You’ll be surprised at the small things that will affect the way guests feel about a port,” Groothius continues. “Things like where the dock is, where the information booth is located, how the gate is set up, the signage – all these things create a lasting impression. Other important factors include the view from the ship when it is at anchor, how far it is to walk into town and the local activities and attractions on offer.”
The welcome from the locals can also make a big difference to the passenger experience. “I’ve seen everything from mariachi bands to cute children’s choirs – even ukulele players waiting at the bottom of the gangway,” Groothius says. “If a town or port is genuine in their reception then this can add a lot of charm. Anything that boosts the guest experience is much appreciated as it keeps our customers coming back and means we will be more likely to visit that port again.”
Groothius says he usually visits around six new ports a year to consider for future itineraries. “One of my most recent visits was to Harlingen in the Netherlands,” he says. “I was impressed. It’s a charming little place and has the potential to offer something very special to the cruise industry.”
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