Increasing arrivals to Trinidad and Tobago by cruise ship highlight the sector's potential

 

Amid fluctuating international arrivals, cruise ship tourism has stepped up and may be set to start fulfilling its significant potential in T&T after four consecutive years of steady growth. The country welcomed 100,791 cruise passengers in the 2015/16 season, up 115% on the previous season and surpassing 100,000 for the first time since 2009/10. Tobago remained the more popular of the two islands, receiving 70,298 passengers from 60 cruise ship calls, while Trinidad welcomed the remaining 30,493 passengers with 25 ship calls.

T&T’s minister of tourism, Shamfa Cudjoe, attributed the segment’s robust performance to several factors, including “aggressive marketing campaigns undertaken by the Tourism Development Company (TDC) in partnership with the Port Authority of T&T, enhanced collaboration with the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA), the improved quality of the shore excursions, berthing facilities and piloting services, and the excellent service rendered by the expertly trained and friendly visitor guides.”

Cruise Control

While T&T has not traditionally ranked among the most popular cruise destinations in the Caribbean, interest could be picking up.

The country’s location at the southern end of the Caribbean archipelago, quite distant from primary cruise ship hubs such as Miami, has often put it at a disadvantage compared to other Caribbean destinations when competing for the bulk of North American cruise ship arrivals. Most cruise itineraries start with ships collecting passengers from transport hubs in the north Caribbean. They then head south – although typically not as far south as T&T – before returning to the homeport.

As a result, T&T has typically received a modest share of total cruise passengers to the Caribbean, and the performance of its cruise segment over the past decade has been particularly volatile. Total cruise arrivals increased dramatically from 44,505 in 2008 to 114,763 and 102,386 in 2009 and 2010, respectively, according to the Port Authority of T&T and the Tobago House of Assembly’s Division of Tourism and Transportation. However, this was followed by a progressive decline to a low of 33,053 in 2013. Growth has since picked up again, with total cruise passengers increasing by 135% in 2015 to 79,405, and reaching 82,698 in 2016.

Goldmine

T&T’s Ministry of Tourism (MoT) recognised cruising as a “goldmine for T&T” and “the most exciting and fastest-growing segment of the travel industry” in an October 2016 press release.

Cruise ship tourism generates an estimated $6.7m in annual receipts for T&T. According to the TDC, cruise passengers spend an average of $43 in Trinidad and $74 in Tobago, significantly below the Caribbean and Latin American averages. A study commissioned by the FCCA, which included 35 destinations in the Caribbean, Mexico and Latin America, recorded average expenditure per passenger of $104 during the 2014/15 cruise season.

Globally, the cruise industry remains the fastest-growing category in leisure travel. Since 1990 the number of cruise passengers has risen at a compound annual growth rate of 6.6%, according to Cruise Market Watch, an industry news outfit, and is set to surpass 25m by 2019. As a region, the Caribbean is the top cruise destination in the world, accounting for more than one-third of global deployment capacity in 2016, according to the FCCA.

Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) data shows that cruise passenger arrivals to the Caribbean reached 26.3m in 2016, with growth of 1.5-2.5% predicted in 2017. North America is expected to continue to account for the largest share of cruise visitors, with the number set to surpass 14m by 2019.

Ready For Take-Off

Despite an increasingly competitive environment, T&T’s robust tourism and accommodation offer, location outside the hurricane belt, and low fuel prices give it a competitive edge, and are expected to help it tap into the growing global cruise industry. T&T was among the fastest-growing cruise destinations in the Caribbean in the first eight months of 2016. Interest in both the southern and northern Caribbean increased in the same period, with cruise passenger arrivals rising by an estimated 1.9%, yet cruise arrivals to the western Caribbean continued to grow at a faster rate over the same period, at 5.5%, according to CTO data.

Growth in T&T’s cruise tourism segment is expected to continue in the short to medium term, with the TDC projecting annual cruise passenger arrivals to reach at least 150,000 by 2020. The TDC anticipates 85 vessel calls in the 2016/17 cruise season, including major liners Seven Seas Navigator, World Odyssey and MSC Poesia.

The 2016/17 season opened on November 5, 2016, with the arrival of the luxury cruise liner Sirena to Port of Spain, transporting over 680 passengers. Princess Cruises is also set to begin calling at T&T in the 2017/18 season, while AIDA Cruises will be returning to the country after a three-year absence, according to local media reports.

Southern Concern

In the medium term the biggest boost for growth in the segment is expected to come from the launch of the Southern Caribbean Cruise Initiative, which proposes an alternative itinerary circuit in the southern Caribbean, including stops in T&T, Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and St Lucia. The southern islands signed a memorandum of understanding in 2014, and discussions are under way for the development of joint marketing strategies. T&T is set to be the primary homeport for the circuit, a natural choice given the country’s fuel bunkering and room stock capacity.

To enable T&T to capitalise on the growing cruise segment, a number of initiatives are under way. The country is working to strengthen relationships with key tourism industry partners to attract new and returning vessels, increase the product’s attractiveness and improve quality standards.

The MoT is also working to diversify the onshore activities and tours available to cruise passengers in and beyond Port of Spain, targeting increases in daily spending by cruise visitors. According to the ministry, 7000 cruise passengers participated in pre-booked excursions during the 2015/16 season, while another 3000 joined available tours.

Infrastructure

Infrastructure upgrades will be key to ensuring sustainable growth, particularly in Tobago, the recipient of nearly 70% of cruise arrivals in the 2015/16 season. At present, cruise ships visiting Tobago dock at Scarborough Port on the island’s southern coast, where cruise visitors are greeted with duty-free shopping, local crafts markets, music stores and a tour office.

In addition to cruise calls, Scarborough Port accommodates inter-island cargo shipments as well as the inter-island ferry operation, which carries nearly 1m passengers annually. Increasing traffic in recent years has brought the port to currently operate at near-full capacity.

“At this point we schedule based on tentative arrivals of cruise ships to ensure the port can accommodate all operations, but in the near future we will conduct dredging works in order to accommodate more cruise vessel calls,” Grant Leon, acting CEO of T&T Inter-Island Transportation Company, told OBG. In Trinidad cruise ships dock at Port of Spain, on the city’s southern side, where visitors have easy access to the city’s shopping and financial districts, including restaurants, museums and entertainment venues. Facilities at the Port of Spain’s cruise ship complex include a Customs hall, car rental agencies, taxi services, shopping and tour guides.

Port of Spain’s International Waterfront Centre has played a key role in improving the experience of visitors who come to the coast, and remains a vital asset in positioning T&T as an emerging cruise ship destination. In addition to two 26-storey office towers, the multi-million-dollar project includes a waterfront esplanade, a public plaza and relaxing gardens, and a 428-room Hyatt Regency Hotel with the Caribbean’s largest conference centre.

Infrastructure upgrades will be key to ensuring sustainable growth, particularly in Tobago, the recipient of nearly 70% of cruise arrivals in the 2015/16 season

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The Report: Trinidad & Tobago 2017

Tourism chapter from The Report: Trinidad & Tobago 2017

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