Op-Ed

Building the synergy between community-based tourism and cruise tourism

In three of my previous articles (August 31, 2018; May 31, 2019 and July 5, 2019), I discussed in length the challenges of cruise tourism in The Bahamas, and I also discussed in a two-part article the potential to develop community-based tourism (CBT) in this country. Interestingly, in one of my many town hall sessions and presentations on promoting CBT, someone asked me how can we develop a CBT model that can be attractive to cruise tourist? How can we build the synergy between cruise tourism and CBT? Is that even conceivable? Recently, I read an interesting article by Sean Jugmohan and Andrea Giampiccoli from the Durban University of Technology, South Africa, in the African Journal of Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure; building a relationship between cruise tourism and CBT is possible. Allow me to highlight some of the discussions and contextualize it to The Bahamas.

The challenges of cruise tourism in any country, especially small island developing states like The Bahamas cannot be denied. The cruise tourism sector has its own positive and negative features that impact destinations that are over relying on this form of tourism. On the one hand, as discussed in my past articles, CBT is another form of tourism with its own possible problems and limitations in fostering community development. Building a synergy and collaboration between these two forms of tourism can transform the needs of the industry and community positively.

As reported by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), more destinations see tourism as a tool for economic development. Tourism has been linked to poverty alleviation and support for tourism as a means of poverty alleviation has grown considerably since the 1990s. Nonetheless, the assumption that tourism growth fosters poverty alleviation is still debated. Mass tourism does not mean high receipt to a destination. It must be emphasized that it is not the number of tourists but the amount spent that counts and the mere fact that tourism takes place does not imply that the money trickles down to the poor – deliberate action is required.

 Understanding the challenges

The possible link between cruise tourism, as a growing sector, and CBT, as a poverty alleviation and holistic community development approach, can be explored. Collaboration between these two tourism sectors should be investigated to enhance the impact of cruise tourism at destination level, to boost the positive experiences of cruise visitors while facilitating and fostering CBT development.

Hence, specific policies and actions need to be devised and managed to enhance the possibility of a positive relationship between tourism development and poverty alleviation with community development. Cruise tourism is increasing its relevance within the more general tourism sector across the globe and its significance in The Bahamas cannot be denied. However, the tourism sector, like all engines of economic development, has desirable and undesirable features. Similarly, cruise tourism issues related to the environment, sustainability and responsible tourism, have been long debated in this region including The Bahamas, where the amount of money trickling into the local economy per cruise tourist is substantially lower than it is for other types of tourism.

On the other hand, cruise tourism is attracting new markets to the region and encouraging land-based vacations. A cruise ship is an extreme form of a “closed bubble”. Cruise tourist are almost isolated from the real world outside in an “inclusive” setting. This dynamic only change when the passengers go for an excursion off the ship. Hence, the cruise ship bubble gives security to the tourists while the outside port area/town represents the insecurity and space to avoid. This situation suggests the need to take action to facilitate the improvement of land-based excursions and their perceived image. What kind of image are we portraying in The Bahamas in the first place? Hence, building the relationships among tourist and local communities, may encourage return visits to the area in the future as long stay visitors. Thus, the value of the experience in the destination’s excursion for cruise tourism visitors are specifically relevant for the possible returning visitation.

Understanding the visitors and their needs

Visitors that go ashore fall into two categories: those taking ships’ shore excursions, and those who make independent arrangements. The impacts of the former group can be managed, within targets set by government, by the relevant authorities and the port agents who negotiate the range and price of on-shore excursions. The second group of passengers comprises ‘independent travellers who do not usually take organized tours. This latter group comprises those who walk around towns on their own, visiting food and handicraft markets, local restaurants, monuments and museums. These ‘independent travellers often travel in small groups and seek to avoid the ‘tourist spots’, thus effectively taking pressure off popular destinations, and seek to meet local people by going beyond the usual destination provided by the organized shore excursion. As such, CBT entities can participate in these visitor experience.

Hence, it is possible to organize different types of involvement of community level organizations in cruise ship visitor ashore experience; Increasing cruise passengers’ length of stay at the destination by trying different approaches. Make deals with the cruise companies by offering free or subsidized meals of traditional Bahamian cuisine so that the visitors do not have to return to the ship for lunch (or dinner). The option of ‘traditional Bahamian cuisine’ could very much establish a link with a CBT entity that supplies such a service. A range of community groups can also routinely offer an opportunity to perform or showcase their culture and heritage, in rotation, on or near the port. Showcasing a preview of the “junkanoo” can be an option.

Visitors searching for authentic experience can be provided the links to these CBT entities. Many well-traveled responsible passengers prefer to buy objects which have been produced by the seller on the grounds that the profit goes directly to the seller, and that they secure a more ‘authentic’ artefact for which they are prepared to pay higher prices rather than the “Made in China” products sold all over the town. What is critical in this experience is not the sale or purchase of the product but the opportunity for the visitors to experience the warmth of the local people and immerse themselves in the local cultural context.

Collaborative strategy

Local authorities need to be vigilant and dynamic in their effort to increase the opportunity for enriching cruise visitors’ experiences by providing a quality product and services that fulfils expectations and satisfies incoming travellers. In the context of stakeholders’ collaboration, involving all stakeholders is key to the success of CBT. Community involvement in cruise tourism visitor experiences should be seen as a first stage of relationship between cruise tourism and CBT, but certainly more can, and should, be done.

Specific changes in the organization and management of the excursion need to be put in place to ensure that profits reach port communities’ members instead of just few actors that have contact with the tourists. The need is to devise and manage more options to link cruise tourism with local context based on changing market characteristics of cruise tourism that seem directed towards seeking exotic experiences such as local wildlife and culture.

It is important to attempt to use a port as a base instead of only as a port of call as research shows that “a port/community earns more from ships that uses it as a base than from one that simply visits it as a port of call”. However, to serve as a base or a cruise liner destination, the city needs to offer more than just the basic infrastructure. Cruise line industry has the responsibility to ensure that memorable packages and excursions are developed and that passengers are encouraged to visit the country’s shores, enjoy what it has to offer and inspire other travellers to visit the country. It can be a win-win model for both the cruise line and the visiting countries. Remember, although the cruise itself is a memorable experience, no cruise will do well in the long run if their calling ports are not as attractive.

Research has also shown than some 85 percent of cruise passengers are sampling the destination with a view to return for longer periods at a later stage. Excursions associated with possible re-visitation are seen as important aspects in the development of the cruise tourism sector. Thus, cruise passengers that are looking for more exotic attractions could very much visit CBT entities and, thereafter, return to their comfort of the cruise ship. While this should not be seen as an ideal situation for – and in some respect contradict the aim of – CBT (CBT should be of longer stay), it should be seen as an initial stage of collaboration where, eventually, occasion for more strong (and long-term) collaboration between CBT and the cruise tourism sector could be devised.

The insertion of CBT entities in pre- and post-tours in cruise packages which have also become a very attractive holiday option could be very much an added attraction in pre- or post- tours. The need is, therefore, to devise possible forms of collaboration between cruise tourism and CBT. This collaboration is also justified and supported by the suggestion that CBT development usually needs specific external facilitation. The cruise industry, with its resources, could act as facilitators in specific CBT projects that could be seen as a potential attraction for its cruise tourist market.

Nonetheless, this collaboration should not indicate (or lead to) the control of the supposedly most resourceful type of tourism involved over the other (i.e. cruise tourism over CBT) but for both sides to benefit. While cruise tourism and CBT relationship should be seen in a progressive way to enhance their association and collaboration towards eventually becoming part of the same tourism structure (meaning perpetually working intrinsically together within their own distinctiveness and independency), a number of possible initial collaborative approaches can be executed.

1. Short-term excursions: In this collaboration, day (or few hours) excursions could be directed towards the usage of CBT entities such as CBT food outlet, CBT art and craft shop and so on. This collaboration is minimal but could, however, be of relevance to the CBT entities and, at the same time, form the base on which to build a more comprehensive and long-standing form of collaboration;

2. Pre- or post-CBT tours: This collaboration entails the longer stay of the visitors in CBT entities such as a CBT accommodation or the regular usage of a CBT food outlet for various days. This form of collaboration is seen as more lucrative for the CBT entities compared to the previous collaboration form; and

3. On board CBT: In this case, a small space or kiosk could be given to a specific CBT art and craft group to sell their merchandise directly to the clients. Specific performances (such as dance or music) could be also executed on board while the ship is docked.

Conclusion

The relevance that cruise tourism can have on destinations like The Bahamas matters as the global demand for cruises is likely to see further growth. The collaboration between the cruise tourism industry and CBT respectively, can be seen as a possible co-operative of mass tourism and alternative tourism forms. Specific market trends in tourism and in the cruise tourism sector, in particular, are seen as an influential substratum upon which to build the possible collaboration. The search by cruise tourism visitors for local cultures and authentic experiences enhances the possible link with CBT entities. There is continuous debate about the relationship between mass and alternative tourism forms by stimulating thought in this regard and the collaboration between cruise tourism and CBT aimed at local community development and poverty alleviation should begin in earnest.

 

• Dr. Vikneswaran Nair is the dean of graduate studies and research and a professor of sustainable tourism at the University of The Bahamas.

 


       

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