What makes a destinations stand out?

Ports and tourist boards share their secrets to attracting cruise passengers

What makes a destinations stand out?
(Image: Stclair Macaulay)

By Sean Dudley |

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

With such a range of cruise options available to today’s passengers, how do destinations showcase their offerings and ensure they stand out from the crowd? Sean Dudley hears from representatives of ports and tourist boards to find out

Selecting where to visit next is one of the biggest decisions a seasoned cruise passenger makes. Different types of guest will naturally search for destinations they think will match their vision of the ideal cruise holiday.

For the people working at such destinations, it is vital to ensure that the spectrum of offerings they have continues to attract visitors. While every resort will have its differences, those working at each will ultimately have the same end goal: ensuring a memorable and enjoyable visit for cruise passengers.

With so many diverse locations forming part of today’s cruise itineraries, identifying why passengers will want to visit your destination is of great importance.

In North America and the Caribbean, diversity is the operative word. From the sunny shores of islands such as Jamaica and the Bahamas, to the frozen reaches of Canada and Alaska, the continent has something for every taste on the cruise spectrum.

For Bermuda-based Meyer Agencies, the island’s abundance of attractions is front of mind when looking to promote the country as a destination. These include Horse Shoe Beach, Crystal Caves, and Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo.

Joe Simas, the company’s vice president marine operations, says: “Bermuda is a safe, clean and friendly destination. We have direct contact with cruise lines and carry out onboard marketing and sales of onboard ship excursions. It’s also a great time for the island, as the Americas Cup will be visiting in 2017.”

Further north, much of the emphasis for many ports and destinations in Canada is on the country’s natural beauty.

Located at the gateway to the Bay of Fundy – which features the tightest tides on the planet – Port Saint John in the province of New Brunswick is home to two new and modern cruise terminals. Visitors have seamless access to premium tours of the region and close walking proximity to the uptown Saint John, which features Canada’s oldest working city market. Some of the most popular experiences include visiting the St Martins Sea Caves and Hopewell Rocks – large rock formations caused by tidal erosion.

Staying in Canada, Prince Edward Island offers a great variety of things to do and see for all different interests.

“We recently redeveloped our cruise terminal to offer a more inviting layout,” says Craig Sulis, manager of trade and sales for Prince Edward Island. “Visitors can explore the island, visit the world of Anne of Green Gable, and take in our extraordinarily beautiful coastline.”

Sulis believes that one of the greatest things a destination can offer is a consistently good experience for the passengers and crew, including tours, independent experiences, services at the port and, in his case, accessibility around the island.

“If we can be viewed as a destination that always offers a great experience, this will translate into more business,” he says. “If the crew is happy and passengers leave wanting to return, we’ve done our jobs.”

Not too far away is Corner Brook, which lies about 35km inland from the Gulf of St Lawrence on the west coast of the island of Newfoundland. The port is sheltered by the Blomidon Mountains, an unspoiled range that surrounds the city. The local area offers a range of outdoor adventures, ranging from a zip line across a waterfall, to rafting, kayaking, caving and hiking.

“Local activities include Captain Cook’s Trail, a scenic drive through seaside communities along the South shore of the Bay of Islands, and a visit to Gros Morne National Park – a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its unique geological features,” says Nora Fever, business development manager at Corner Brook Port.

Across the Atlantic, Northern Europe’s range of offerings are similarly diverse. Bustling cities and rugged, unspoilt wilderness lie in close proximity to one another, allowing cruise decision-makers to tick a range of boxes when selecting itineraries. For an organisation such as Cruise Baltic, when marketing the region’s highlights, this diversity is key.

“We have big cities, great nature, exciting history, prize-winning design and excellent gastronomy,” said Claus Bødker, director of Cruise Baltic. “You can experience no fewer than six capital cities on a seven-day cruise. The region is very safe, English-speaking and the infrastructure in the ports and destinations are very effective. We also have 35 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Baltic Sea region alone.”

The variety of experiences available in Norway is particularly impressive. The northern lights season in the north starts around September, and more than 100 calls are scheduled for this period in 2017. Attractions in the north include the midnight sun, polar bears, quaint fishing villages, fjords and the culture of the indigenous Sami People.

In mid-Norway lies the beautiful Helgeland Coast, the Svartisen Glacier and the historic city of Trondheim, while the warmer south features cultural hubs such as Bergen, Stavanger and the capital city, Oslo. Norway also offers great opportunities for turnaround operations from most major ports of call.

And in 2017, Cruise Norway intends to focus on turnaround possibilities in collaboration with Innovation Norway, to help open up more of the country’s access points.

“We believe that there is a huge unrealised potential,” says Sandra Diana Bratland, managing director at Cruise Norway. “With the Seawalk in place at North Cape Turnaround Port in Hamnbukt in northern Norway in May this year, new and exciting possibilities open in the Arctic. This means that a ship can be stationed in the North and do shorter cruises in this exotic region.”

In southern Europe and the Mediterranean, the warmer temperatures, scenic beach resorts and cities crammed with culture appeal to many cruise passengers. At A Coruña on Spain’s Atlantic coastline, the port is a particularly attractive destination for cruise ships as the sea is the principal access point for tourists to visit the city.

The cruise terminal is in the heart of the city centre and can be directly accessed via a large pedestrian square. Guests can discover the old town, walk through the pedestrian streets and lanes, and visit the San Carlos Gardens. The Tower of Hercules, the oldest functioning Roman lighthouse, is a further highlight, as is tasting local food and wine.

The City Walking Tour is the most popular shore excursion, while Santiago de Compostela can be reached by coach in one hour. This historic pilgrimage location with its Cathedral and old town is hugely popular with cruise passengers.

From the Port of Huelva on Spain’s Mediterranean coastline, visitors can travel to nearby cities such as Seville and those on the Portuguese Algarve, as well as local national parks and nature reserves. Popular tours from Huelva include the Christopher Columbus Tour, and visits to Doñana National Park and El Rocio village.

The port is also taking steps to enhance its offerings. “In order to give the best service to cruise ships, the Huelva Cruise Network group has been created,” says Graciela Arcos, commercial development officer at Port of Huelva. “It is a work group formed by local authorities, public and private companies oriented to develop Huelva, its province and the port as cruise destination and be able to provide the best response that the cruise industry demands.”

Across the border in France, Bordeaux Port Atlantique features two berths located right in the heart of the 18th century city of Bordeaux. Passengers can enjoy a great view of the city from the deck.

“Before or after an excursion, passengers can ‘hop on and hop off’ the cruise ship and walk to shops museums restaurants,” said Laurence Bouchardie, head of development at Cruise Bordeaux. “You can reach the main interest points of the city by foot in just a few minutes. No bus, no shuttle, no hassle. Passengers can also enjoy vineyards, wine estates, museums, golf, UNESCO classified villages, and the Cité du Vin – an interactive museum dedicated to wine civilisations.”

In June 2017, a new high speed train will connect Bordeaux to Paris in just two hours, presenting plenty of new opportunities for the city.

The Mediterranean’s eastern region offers a portal into the delights of the Middle East and Asia.

“Conveniently located close to Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Tel Aviv, Ashdod Port in Israel is gateway to the modern city of Ashdod – a polished gem waiting to be discovered,” says the port’s CEO Isaac Blumenthal.

The port’s easy access to the abundance of historic attractions, including the Dead Sea, Jerusalem’s Western Wall, and Jonah’s Hill, where Prophet Jonah was ejected onto dry land after spending three days and nights in the fish’s belly, are central to Port Ashdod’s appeal.

By identifying and focusing on unique selling points and offerings that stand out from the norm, ports and cities around the world are transforming to truly become destinations of distinction.

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