Front Door of Tourism – Building Destinations, Not Just Piers

Destinations vs. Piers

Author: Hugh Darley

As the cruise ship arrives into its port of call, guests line the upper decks and fill balconies to be rewarded with a bird’s eye view of their awaiting destination, the port and its host city spread to the horizon. They have high expectations of what they envision as – paradise!

It is often at this moment with the accompanying excitement of the sense of arrival that many passengers decide whether to disembark – spending the day in tropical paradise, or to stay on board and enjoy the many amenities of these new luxury liners.

Traditionally, ports were developed as industrial complexes with a focus on commercial cargo and ship handling, but now find themselves handling passengers as well, if not exclusively. Ports must now develop or reinvent themselves to handle the role as the front door for cruise tourism. Usually located in the heart of the downtown waterfront, the port may also dominate the city in which it is located. Most governments and port authorities continue to treat the ports as an industrial (brown) site, rather than seeing these valuable waterfront sites as its opportunity to meet the world. It is here, in the port, that arriving passengers gain their first impression of the destination, an opportunity that only comes once.

If the guest’s first view of a destination is of warehouses, container stacks, tank farms and back of house areas, the passenger’s mind is often made up; “If this is it, and it doesn’t look like the post cards, I think I’ll stay on board”. With that snap decision, the destination has a grand opportunity of potential tour and retail sales revenue but most importantly it could loose a potential “brand ambassador”.

In less visually desirable Caribbean ports we’ve seen as little as 15% of passengers disembark. Thus a staggering 85% of passengers are choosing to stay on the ship and not visit the destination at all. In visually attractive destinations, we’ve seen the reverse where 85% of visitors disembark the ship. If each passenger spends on average $125 landside, for a 4,000 passenger ship, that could mean $350K of potential income is missed for local businesses every time a ship calls with 85% of passengers remaining on board. This income doesn’t include the average expenditure for the crew of approximately $89.24 per destination.*

Developed from the point of view of the Guest Experience, new destination ports of call must be designed to ensure the expectations of arriving passengers are exceeded, and that the logistics in helping them disembark, explore, shop and join excursions are addressed to the passengers best advantage.

When ports are developed as Destinations the value of the surrounding property increases and the city’s socio-economic environment is revitalized. A relationship between the waterfront and the city is necessary in order to create a great destination that people want to visit and spend time. It is time for ports of call to think about the message their front doors are presenting to the world.

My advice to all port authorities is to take a cruise and arrive at your own port. Stand on the top deck and see your city from the passenger’s perspective. Does this view promote the destination you are selling?

* Reference: FCCA’s Oct 2009 Economic Contribution of Cruise Tourism to the Destination Economics