Tap­ping into cruise ship prof­its a co­nun­drum for city’s busi­nesses

Geraldton Guardian - - News - Justin Fris and Gavin Box

A few weeks ago, 1740 tourists dis­em­barked from a cruise ship on a Sun­day af­ter­noon in Geraldton.

The ship had docked on the foreshore for sev­eral hours and pas­sen­gers were no doubt look­ing to stretch their legs and see the sights.

As they slowly fil­tered ashore with wal­lets at the ready, they were greeted by scores of closed doors — shops and food out­lets along Foreshore Drive and Marine Ter­race were shut for the day.

It was one of the rare times when cruise ships visit Geraldton on a Sun­day or pub­lic hol­i­day.

Sce­nar­ios like this that have played out since cruise ships started vis­it­ing Geraldton sev­eral years ago, say tourism ad­vo­cates, are not a good look.

They say it’s bad for busi­ness — and ev­ery­one in the com­mu­nity, long-term.

But re­tail­ers say it’s more com­pli­cated than that.

They say un­til some ma­jor hur­dles are over­come, it would be fool­ish to open their doors on Sun­days or pub­lic hol­i­days to cater for cruise ship arrivals.

What ex­actly are the hur­dles? And is the cruise ship in­dus­try the lu­cra­tive tourism driver many say it is?

In this spe­cial re­port, the Guardian takes a closer look at the is­sue.

Ac­cord­ing to Tourism WA and the Cruise Line In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion, cruise ships brought in $275 mil­lion to WA’s econ­omy in 2015-16.

They es­ti­mated each do­mes­tic pas­sen­ger spent an av­er­age $150 per day in tran­sit ports, which Geraldton clas­si­fies as.

They say in­ter­na­tional pas­sen­gers spend an es­ti­mated $180 a day in tran­sit ports.

Ac­cord­ing to the City of Greater Geraldton, 17,872 pas­sen­gers dis­em­barked in Geraldton in 2015-16, when 13 cruise ships vis­ited the city.

Two of those shore vis­its hap­pened on a Sun­day and both times more than 1700 peo­ple came ashore.

Penalty rates and prof­itabil­ity have his­tor­i­cally been the ma­jor bar­ri­ers for re­tail­ers open­ing their doors out­side reg­u­lar trad­ing hours for cruise ships, ac­cord­ing to for­mer Mid West Cham­ber of Com­merce and In­dus­try chief ex­ec­u­tive Rob Jef­feries.

“While cal­cu­la­tions can be made on es­ti­mated ex­pen­di­ture from cruise ships, these are av­er­age fig­ures,” he said.

“A num­ber of busi­nesses found when they opened the ex­pen­di­ture wasn’t any­where near those lev­els.

“Some sec­tors have done well — no­tably hos­pi­tal­ity and cafes — while some have done av­er­age.

“It’s im­por­tant to re­alise tourists are look­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence the lo­cal prod­uct, some­thing that is rel­e­vant to the town they are vis­it­ing.

“They are not look­ing to go to a su­per­mar­ket to buy a jar of Vegemite.”

He said a sig­nif­i­cant is­sue not widely un­der­stood was that cruise ship arrivals could not be guar­an­teed, yet if re­tail­ers chose to open their doors they had to pay staff re­gard­less.

Mr Jef­feries said the ar­gu­ment of life­style and want­ing time off to spend with fam­ily or to play sport did not come up in dis­cus­sions he had with re­tail­ers on the is­sue.

“There are a lot of as­sump­tions made about why re­tail­ers don’t open their doors but the fun­da­men­tal rea­son is prof­itabil­ity,” he said.

Mr Jef­feries said the Geraldton Vis­i­tor Cen­tre and the cham­ber were work­ing closely to try to im­prove com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween re­tail­ers and cruise ship pas­sen­gers.

“A lot could be done, but the best re­sults are achieved in re­tail when vis­its are co-or­di­nated, and the cham­ber and vis­i­tor cen­tre are do­ing a great job, so I’m sure it will con­tinue to im­prove,” he said.

City of Greater Geraldton chief ex­ec­u­tive Ken Diehm said an is­sue re­cently iden­ti­fied by cruise ship op­er­a­tors was the need to an­chor off­shore and bring their pas­sen­gers into the ma­rina by boat. “On some days when our ocean is not calm, that ex­er­cise is un­com­fort­able for their pas­sen­gers, and it lim­its the num­ber that choose to come ashore,” he said.

“The pref­er­ence of the cruise ships would be to en­ter our port and berth, to en­able pas­sen­gers to dis­em­bark onto the port docks.

“That would cer­tainly see greater num­bers of pas­sen­gers dis­em­bark­ing safely, in the calmer com­fort of the port, and that might log­i­cally make it more worth­while from a com­mer­cial stand­point for

more foreshore and CBD busi­nesses to open on Sun­days and pub­lic hol­i­days when ships visit.”

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the City and the Port re­cently dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­ity of hav­ing cruise ships berth in the port.

“We ap­pre­ci­ate the pri­mary busi­ness of the port is ex­port of re­gional min­eral and agri­cul­tural pro­duce, so there is com­pe­ti­tion for berths,” Mr Diehm said.

“An ad­van­tage of cruise ship op­er­a­tions is that they pub­lish their planned vis­its pro­gram up to two years in ad­vance, and that al­lows ports along their cruise route to sched­ule use of berths.

“The Port is keen to pur­sue this, to find a work­able arrangemen­t. One hitch is the swell prob­lem that the port ex­pe­ri­ences, re­sult­ing in bro­ken lines, but the po­ten­tial for in­vest­ment in shore­line ten­sions sys­tems is be­ing ac­tively ex­plored, to mit­i­gate that prob­lem.

“The Port has been seek­ing so­lu­tions to this prob­lem, re­cently tri­alling sev­eral shore­line ten­sion units, and find­ing them ef­fec­tive.

“Ob­vi­ously, in­vest­ment in these units for the Port will cost money.

“The City will sup­port ef­forts by the Port to fund and ac­quire the shore­line ten­sion units.”

Mr Diehm said the City would con­sider spe­cial trad­ing ar­range­ments for busi­nesses to bet­ter cater for cruise ship arrivals out­side reg­u­lar busi­ness hours.

“The City has been keen to lib­er­alise re­tail trad­ing hours for some years, but our re­tail com­mu­nity has been re­luc­tant to em­brace that change, for a range of rea­sons,” he said.

“We un­der­stand the Mid West Cham­ber of Com­merce and In­dus­try con­sid­ers this is­sue on an on­go­ing ba­sis.”

Al­bany Cham­ber of Com­merce and In­dus­try chief ex­ec­u­tive Russ Clark said it was im­por­tant for the busi­ness com­mu­nity to fo­cus on the pos­i­tives of­fered by cruise ships on Sun­days and pub­lic hol­i­days, rather than neg­a­tives.

“In Al­bany, we pro­mote heav­ily to the lo­cal busi­nesses when the ships are ar­riv­ing,” he said.

“Some re­gions have also looked at get­ting peo­ple to go on­board the ships and in­form the pas­sen­gers ahead of time of what ser­vices are open.”

Mr Clark said pas­sen­ger de­mo­graph­ics and trip du­ra­tion also played a sig­nif­i­cant role in their move­ments on ar­rival.

“Early on in the trip, pas­sen­gers typ­i­cally like to save their money, but to­wards the end they like to spend up big as they may wish to pur­chase gifts or trin­kets,” he said.

“Rather than fo­cus on the busi­nesses that are shut, we like to pro­mote busi­nesses that are open.”

Mr Clark ac­knowl­edged the pres­sures Sun­day penalty rates had on small busi­nesses and un­der­stood why some busi­nesses opted to stay shut on Sun­day.

Lo­cal busi­ness­man and lead for new pro­posed busi­ness-led en­tity Progress Mid West Todd West, said the cruise ship in­dus­try was an im­por­tant part of Geraldton’s tourism.

“Progress Mid­west sees the cruise ship in­dus­try as a vi­tal com­po­nent to the long-term suc­cess of tourism in the Mid West,” he said.

“We need to be max­imis­ing the op­por­tu­ni­ties the cruise in­dus­try brings to the re­gion.

“We know the cruise ship itin­er­ar­ies and need to seek to un­der­stand how we can add value to the ex­pe­ri­ence that pas­sen­gers have when they land in Geraldton.

“This is about build­ing longterm re­la­tion­ships and en­tic­ing peo­ple back, and their friends, to the re­gion long af­ter the ini­tial visit.

“This is all about tak­ing the in­di­vid­ual good and turn­ing it into the col­lab­o­ra­tive great.”

City of Greater Geraldton Mayor Shane Van Styn, an ad­vo­cate of dereg­u­lated trad­ing, wants busi­nesses to con­sider open­ing on Sun­days when a cruise ship plans to visit.

“It’s un­for­tu­nate shops re­main closed dur­ing those peak cruise ship times,” he said.

“I would en­cour­age all busi­ness own­ers to con­sider, for the 18-odd times a year, be­ing open to serve those cruise ship pas­sen­gers, as we look to grow tourism in the Mid West.”

Mid West Cham­ber of Com­merce and In­dus­try (small and medium en­ter­prise) rep­re­sen­ta­tive Dave Clare would like to see re­tail­ers work­ing more closely with cruise lin­ers to max­imise tourism and busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties.

He said lo­cal busi­nesses had plenty of op­por­tu­nity to plan for when cruise ships ar­rive and to cater to pas­sen­ger needs.

“It would be great for re­tail­ers to com­mu­ni­cate closely with the cruise lin­ers and find out which di­rec­tion they are head­ing or re­turn­ing from,” he said.

“That way, they can de­ter­mine the de­mo­graph­ics of pas­sen­gers on­board, money to be spent and cater to pas­sen­ger needs.”

Mr Clare said he would like to see the foreshore busy when cruise ships ar­rived. “Even if shops didn’t trade fully, it would be great if spe­cial trad­ing pro­vi­sions could be in­tro­duced and busi­nesses could set up mar­ket stalls,” he said.

“We want tourists to have an ex­cit­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in Geraldton.”

Newly-ap­pointed Mid West Cham­ber of Com­merce and In­dus­try chief ex­ec­u­tive Glen Whistler Carr said he could not com­ment at length on the is­sue be­cause he was still de­ter­min­ing how re­tail­ers would like to be rep­re­sented.

But he said the cham­ber’s re­tail com­mit­tee was in­volved in on­go­ing dis­cus­sions, “try­ing to find an eq­ui­table so­lu­tion ben­e­fi­cial and sus­tain­able for busi­nesses”.

Pic­ture: Gary Warner

Big vis­i­tor: cruise liner Sun Princess an­chored be­yond Seal Rocks.

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