Cruise control

by Oct 27, 2022Pulse

IF passenger feedback is anything to go by, Jamaica’s cruise sector appears to be moving in the right direction. Efforts are underway to boost both home-grown and international marketing of the sector; meanwhile the tourism ministry is expected to make yet another attempt to come up with a strategy to convert cruise passengers into guests who will stay longer on land.

“Cruise shipping is like window shopping. When you come on a cruise ship you’re window shopping the destination, and you’ll want to come back. We’re working with JTB [Jamaica Tourist Board on]… a cruise conversion strategy that will allow us to be able to actually… do more with our passengers who arrive on cruise ships [and] can be converted into long-term stopover guests,” said executive director of Jamaica Vacations Ltd (Jamvac), Joy Roberts.

Executive director of Jamaica Vacations Ltd (Jamvac), Joy Roberts.

“We had actually done some work previously but it’s to get the hoteliers on board, trying to find out how they would want to be a part of the programme. Because, as you know, most of our hoteliers… their passengers are booked through tour operators so sometimes there’s a thin line there and they don’t want to cross that line. But, we are talking to them. There are some hoteliers who have already said that they’re willing to go ahead with the programme so we will do the strategy around whatever is acceptable and best for them,” Roberts added.

She opted to withhold further details until after dialogue with the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association.

There have been at least two earlier efforts to convert cruise passengers to stopover guests, one announced in 2002 and another in 2004. Roberts appears enthusiastic about this new push.

“We will see some things starting to happen in April 2023 into March 2024, that’s the financial year,” she said.

She was speaking with the Jamaica Observer’s days after returning from the 28th Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) Conference in the Dominican Republic. The feedback at that event, she said, was overwhelmingly positive and in line with the data Jamvac has been collating. According to Roberts, they have exceeded their goal of a 97 per cent visitor satisfaction rate.

“We’re looking at 98 per cent for the last three months. On average we’re doing 98, 98.5 per cent, so that we’re happy about,” Roberts affirmed.

Those visitor satisfaction numbers are up from the 83 to 85 per cent seen in 2017 when cruise was added to Jamvac’s portfolio. At that time only about 50 per cent of passengers chose to get off ships that docked in Jamaica. Today, those numbers are up by about 20 per cent.

“We’re looking at numbers over the last couple of months of up to 75 per cent disembarkation at all our ports. That is a resounding success,” said Roberts.

With Jamaican cruise workers now being trained to respond to guests who have questions about what to do while on shore, those numbers are expected to increase. The first batch of about 200 workers, trained during the down time when COVID-19 was battering the global tourism industry, are now among those being assigned to ships. The thinking is that having them among the informal marketers for Jamaica is a good move, but their level of effectiveness will be tricky to measure.

It should be easier to assess the impact from the 200,000 additional cruise ship travel agents who will be working directly with Jamvac as of December.

“In 2017 we were working with about 20,000 travel agents. We are now, at the end of September, at 200,000 — and we’re looking at doubling that before the end of this year,” said Roberts who pointed out that 85 per cent of cruise travel is sold through agents.

“We have been going to the shows, we’ve been building relationships, we have been using influencers, we’ve been training,” she added.

Travel agents, she said, are now au fait with all that Jamaica has to offer: the traditional sun, sand and sea plus more recent additions that cover everything from gastronomy to heritage tourism. They will need to stay on their toes, though. More changes are coming as Jamaica pivots to meet the needs of a new type of cruise passenger.

See more from the interview on our YouTube channel.


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