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Improving Cruise Passengers Experience Is Simple, But Not Quick
Last weeks working session in Florida brought cruise industry execs and local government officials together to present solutions
BY EVELYN GUADALUPE-FAJARDO
April 18, 2002
Simple solutions like circulating cruise line arrival schedules to merchants and restaurant owners, keeping El Morro fortress open later, hiring tourism authority constables for security, sustaining pier and airport facilities, and providing more land-based tours could help improve the cruise passenger experience in Old San Juan.
"None of this stuff will make a visible difference overnight," said John Tercek, vice president of commercial development for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. "But after several years of continuity, when the feedback gets to the distribution, it should increase demand for consumers to visit Puerto Rico.
Cruise industry executives from Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America, and local government officials (Jose Vaquero, executive director of the Ports Authority; Milton Segarra, executive director of the Tourism Co.; Antonio Sosa-Pascual, commerce development administrator & PromoExport executive director, and Carlos Vizcarrondo, speaker of the House of Representatives) discussed these solutions at a working session held at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables last week. Rick Newman, president of the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association, was also present at the meeting.
Discussions sparked after a PricewaterhouseCoopers passenger expenditure study conducted in 2000 demonstrated that Caribbean cruise ship passengers spent the least money in the Port of San Juan, not withstanding the fact that the Tourism Co. and cruise lines are in the process of negotiating a two-year incentives contract that must be finalized by December.
"These are good ideas reflecting the fact that this is a reality," said Tercek, referring to some solutions mentioned in the meeting. "Miltons approach is open and our next meeting will include members of the private sector."
The six major topics reviewed were shopping & entertainment, pre- & post-cruise stays, operational issues at airport & ports, security at ports, provisioning, and tours.
"Its a good start and the government seems interested in helping the industry, but I hope they follow through," said Matthew Sams, vice president of Caribbean relations. "There have been numerous years when the government has had a lack of concern, interest, and attitude."
Shopping and entertainment
"Puerto Rico needs to create events and activities, either sponsored by the government or private sector, to grab cruise passengers attention during the time they are in port," Tercek said.
Another idea presented at the meeting was that Old San Juan shops and restaurants should open later in the evenings, especially on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday during the winter season, when ships are in-transit at the Port of San Juan.
Other ideas included posting ship arrival schedules in some kind of a venue or billboard in order to capture local interest such as artisans or local artists who would want to set up shop, and instead of having police officers on motorcycles with bulletproof vests, there should be tourism constables that will make people feel comfortable (this is to reinforce the image that San Juan is safe to stroll at night).
Pre- and post cruise business
Cruise industry executives allege theres a lot of pre- and post-stay turnover because they cant find hotels that are inexpensive enough for their crew. Instead, cruise lines say they put up their crew for the night in Miami and then fly them to San Juan the morning of the cruise.
"Puerto Rico as a homeport has the most expensive rooms, which puts a limit on how many rooms we can book," said Marcia King-Gamble, director of pre- and post-guest satisfaction for Royal Caribbean International. "We need to find some hotels to work with us."
For years, there have been consistent maintenance problems at the local terminalsboth airport and cruise piers.
"Puerto Rico does not maintain its facilities," said Tercek. "Of the 18 elevators at Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport, 14 have not worked for years. And the escalator at Pier 6 has been broken down since 1988."
Jose Vaquero, interim executive director at the Puerto Rico Ports Authority, agreed there are important issues that must be resolved.
Vaquero told the cruise executives that he has hired consultants to review the elevators at the airport and he is allocating funds to fix them, but that would take at least eight months.
"The meeting last week was productive and we need to address those issues at the airport and port facilities," Vaquero added.
Other operational issues brought forth by the cruise line executives included the lack of space in Pier 6. If it were to rain, passengers who had passed through U.S. Customs would have to return to the building. This would fill up the room, slowing down the embarking and disembarking process. Also, at Pier 1 loading and unloading of baggage is only permitted in the street, which makes it a hassle for the passengers.
"The initiative taken in the last couple of months seems to be well received by all parties as is the general interest by the cruise lines and government to improve the product," Newman said. "As a result, there is an opportunity to gain increased revenue for the economy of Puerto Rico from more pre- and post-stay business and future land-based stays because the experience was positive."
This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.