With cruise tourists increasingly valuing friendly customer service, specific shopping options (and affordability) and unique excursions, The West Indian Company finds that the hotel and cruise industries are relying on each other to provide high-quality services to potential returning tourists.
"Our first visit here was on a cruise; we liked it so much we just had to come back". Such a comment from overnight guests is one that Caribbean hotel and cruise industry professionals hear frequently, and appreciate. There is a clear synergy and symbiotic relationship between the hotel and cruise industries. As such, cruise guests should be recognised for their value as gateway guests: guests introduced to the islands during a brief visit who are willing to make a considerable investment to return to a destination for a longer and fuller overnight experience.
According to the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (F-CCA) 2012 Business Research and Economic Advisors (BREA) survey on the economic impact of cruise tourism, 49% of those surveyed were likely to return to a cruise destination for a resort or land-based visit within three years.
With the average cruise ship carrying 3,000 passengers, these figures mean destinations could realise 1,470 overnight visitors and more than $3 million in revenue per visit, thanks to the cruise industry.
"Larger ships are bringing more passengers to Caribbean destinations because of the region's popularity," says Joseph B. Boschulte, president and CEO of the West Indian Company. "When those passengers return as overnight visitors, they spend more in retail stores, they return for additional visits and even invest in real estate - whether for time shares, vacations or income-generating properties. All of these residual effects of an initial cruise visit serve to benefit island economies exponentially."
While cost is a major factor, when cruise visitors return as overnight guests to higher-end destinations such as the US Virgin Islands, they are looking for an extended experience in the destination that connects most with their wallets and interests.
There are guests - cruise and overnight - who simply want to enjoy a glass of rum punch while lying on the beach. Then there are those who want to visit a local rum factory, know where the sugar cane is sourced, hear the fascinating history behind the rum recipe and immerse themselves in the sampling experience, before purchasing several bottles to take back home for themselves and their friends.
So, how do Caribbean destinations turn cruise visitors into overnight guests? Service is paramount. According to the F-CCA study, a wealth of variables impacts the cruise visitor's experience: such as whether the destination meets visitor expectations, the initial welcome, shore excursions, shopping, affordability, options for - and information about - activities, and staff friendliness and courtesy.
Cruise passengers who have a positive experience are also more likely to recommend a destination - and cruise line - to friends, family and co-workers interested in a Caribbean cruise or an overnight stay.
Conceivably, any new or existing hotel property will accommodate not only vacation travellers, but also destination weddings, meetings and incentive travel, all of which attract large, overnight groups to the islands. In addition to providing exceptional service, Caribbean destinations also need to distinguish themselves. While the 'seen-one-island-seen-them-all' misperception still persists, there are travellers who know better.
"Travellers are becoming increasingly aware of the distinctions between islands," explains Boschulte. "While the initial decision may have been to go on a general Caribbean cruise, based on price or the number of days, on a subsequent overnight stay, travellers are often aiming to revisit a specific preferred destination."
The islands that comprise the Caribbean archipelago are unique and diverse, with characteristics that have evolved from long colonial relationships with countries such as the UK, Denmark, France, Spain, the Netherlands and others. These relationships have impacted the language, history, music, food, traditions and architecture of the islands in varied ways. Combined, these characteristics comprise the genuine flavour that is the culture of a destination.
For example, the US Virgin Islands, promoted as 'America's Caribbean', is best known as a leading duty-free shopping destination. However, 2017 sees the centennial of the islands' transfer from Denmark to the US. Since the territory's emphasis during that time will be on such a major historic event, visitors that year will have the opportunity to be a part of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The West Indian Company is pleased to be the leader of cruise tourism in the USVI, and equally pleased to see the USVI highly rated in most BREA survey customer satisfaction categories. There is obvious interest from consumers, not only in sampling the US Virgin Islands, but also in returning for an extended period of time and delving into the local experience.
Every visitor counts, and the initial and residual contributions from cruise passengers are an important component in the West Indian Company's guest mix and marketing efforts.