Like the nations that supply their tourism dollars, the Caribbean islands were bowing under the weight of the global recession at press time, though officials were still expressing a measure of optimism and forging ahead with renovations or other projects, thinking of the long term.
In Jamaica, William Tatham, vice president of cruise shipping and marina operations, said that as a result of discounting, passengers may not be as affluent as in the past. “We’re anticipating a potential decline in on-land revenues,” he said. “We’re monitoring the onshore spending and anticipate that it won’t be as good as it has been in the past.”
Spending Is Down
Grenada has noticed a difference already, said William Joseph, the island’s tourism minister. “Reports from local service providers are that visitors are not spending much money,” he said. “Many can actually be seen returning to the ships empty-handed. This is unlike what happened in the past when there was vivid evidence of cruise ship visitors purchasing lots of t-shirts, spices and other local souvenirs.”
The U.S. Virgin Islands has consistently been one of the destinations with one of the highest spending levels, just under $200 per person. “However, we have seen a trend this year that people are not spending as much as they generally do,” said Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson Doty. “I think that that is a direct result of the economy.”
“It’s definitely affecting us,” said Avonelle Pole, marketing consultant for Antigua. She emphasized the importance of a positive attitude. “Two days this week we had four ships in the harbor each day. So I’m happy. So what if passengers are spending a little less. They’re still coming.”
“Summer is when a lot of the Caribbean is suffering,” Tatham said. “There has been a movement to the Mediterranean, Alaska and other parts of the world.”
Not only that, but the summer season has also lengthened. “The winter business used to start as early as late September and extend to May,” Tatham said. “What we’re seeing now is that lots of winter business may not arrive till December and leave in early April, as soon as the other parts of the world open up for their cruising period.”
“There is almost no summer business,” admitted Grenada’s Joseph.
The U.S. Virgin Islands’ Doty also said there is no summer business to speak of. “I think that this is one of the areas where we have to be looking at as a region, the Caribbean region, on how we address this and how we see growth in this area.”
“We look at this as an incredible opportunity every year with hundreds of thousands of people in our destination,” Doty said. “We want (them) to build long-term friendships with the Virgin Islands, because at the end of the day, you can come on a cruise the first time, and then you have three other opportunities to visit three very different islands.”
Jamaica gives a resounding yes to the answer of whether it’s all worth it. “Absolutely,” said Tatham. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for any destination to introduce itself as a vacation spot. So for Jamaica it’s an opportunity to entice guests to return, whether it be on another cruise or on a land-based vacation. We have so much to offer that you can’t do everything that you would want to do in Jamaica in a single day.”
The two types of tourism complement each other as well. “We have a tremendous range of activities and actions that guests can undertake,” Tatham said. “We’ve built some world-class facilities that can’t be sustained solely by a land vacation. So it works very well. Lots of attractions enjoy equal business from both land-based and cruise passengers. They wouldn’t be able to sustain themselves on one or the other.”
The U.S. Virgin Islands just has to look at “the mere fact that in 2009 when we as a nation are experiencing one of the most difficult economic times and we can say that on St. Croix we’re going to have 125,000 new visitors, that signals growth and tells you that these efforts certainly are paying off,” Doty said.
Grenada participates in the Caribbean Freestay Program, an initiative that gives cruise-ship passengers incentives to return to Grenada on vacation. “Naturally we are very supportive of this. So too are the members of the Grenada Hotel and Tourism Association,” Joseph said.
Excerpt from Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine: Spring 2009