Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Caribbean governments alleviate pier pressure


Caribbean governments alleviate pier pressure

By Gay Nagle Myers and Donna Tunney
Falmouth vendorVendor harassment of cruise passengers has long been an issue on Caribbean islands where ports play a major role in the tourism economy. But that has been changing recently as island hosts respond to growing numbers of unhappy passengers and pressure from cruise lines to clean up their act.

Most recently, vendor harassment came into focus immediately following the opening of the multimillion-dollar Port of Falmouth, a collaborative joint venture of the government of Jamaica and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., whose brands include Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises and Pullmantur.

Jamaica wasted no time responding to complaints from cruise passengers about street vendors in the new port. Issuing a stern warning, Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett said any vendors caught harassing tourists with aggressive tactics would face heavy penalties. Moreover, he said, the penalties "should be uniform for the entire country."

In Falmouth, the new regulations took effect immediately. In meetings with town officials, vendors were informed that henceforth they must register with the Trelawny Parish Council to sell their wares when ships are in port.

Because outsiders from neighboring parishes had been able to infiltrate the territory, registration will be restricted to Trelawny-based vendors. Each must pay between $23 and $28 to register and must carry a valid ID.

In addition, the number of vendors is limited to 75 on the cruise pier and between 20 and 25 at the City of Falmouth's Water Square when a ship is in port. Vendors are rotated on a regular basis.

Bartlett warned that harassing tourists could destroy Falmouth "as potentially the best cruise port in the Caribbean."

"Harassment against tourists is the single most debilitating disease in tourism, as it fuels a feeling of insecurity among visitors," Bartlett said. "Even if hard crimes are not around, it is the problem of harassment that will destroy the industry."

Royal Caribbean weighed in, as well. John Tercek, vice president of commercial development, said the cruise company was "very supportive of government initiatives that help make our guests' port experience more organized and stress-free."

Falmouth OasisHe pointed out that Royal Caribbean has a financial stake in Falmouth and that the port's creation, as well as the redevelopment of the area around the port, was undertaken jointly by the government of Jamaica and RCCL.

"The port was constructed to enable Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, our two largest ships, to dock in Falmouth," Tercek said. "The ships carry 5,400 passengers, and during their first few weeks of port calls, hundreds of vendors filled the port and surrounding streets. The aggressive nature of some vendors prompted complaints from passengers."

The recent government initiatives he said, "will help ensure a very positive greeting for guests."

Henry Colella, owner of Captain Cruise & Vacations in Everett, Mass., said a crackdown in Jamaica was overdue. While aggressive vendors are rampant throughout the Caribbean, he said, "the only place, I think, that has a really serious problem is Jamaica."

He described Jamaican vendors as "rude" and "pushy," adding, "and there's a lot of them." Colella said he warns clients that when they get off a ship, they are likely to be inundated by souvenir vendors.

Colella said he liked the idea of governments requiring vendors to register and limiting their numbers in ports.

Agent Tom Kleefisch of Cruise Planners/American Express in Dallas said he had not heard any recent complaints from clients about vendors, adding, "I think some of the more experienced cruisers know it is just part of the background noise."

Beyond Jamaica

Bartlett's warning and Jamaica's actions are in line with moves other big-port islands have been making recently.

The Cayman Islands, for example, requires all vendors, including transportation and watersports operators, to apply for permission to operate at the port in George Town, Grand Cayman. Those who get permission must prominently display a port ID.

Premier and Minister of Tourism McKeeva Bush meets regularly with vendors and operators to address concerns, and the Department of Tourism plans to increase the frequency of its visitor satisfaction surveys from annually to twice a year to keep closer tabs on tourist issues.

Puerto Rico, meanwhile, restricts access to the docks and piers in San Juan to "essential personnel," according to the Puerto Rico Tourism Co.

Nassau pierPRTC-certified vendors and providers, such as taxi drivers, tour guides and others who operate beyond the dock area, have to follow an organized system that limits numbers and prevents congestion in the area.

Beverly Nicholson-Doty, commissioner of tourism for the U.S. Virgin Islands, said the government has laws prohibiting hassling and harassment of tourists in historical areas and along the beaches.

"These laws are not specific to cruise passengers but to all individuals in specified areas," Nicholson-Doty said.

All vendors in the USVI must be licensed with Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs and are regulated through operational permits, as well.

Prior to the inaugural calls in St. Thomas of the Oasis of the Seas in December 2009 and the Allure of the Seas a year later, plans were well under way to regulate traffic, security and port entertainment, the commissioner said.

"We increased the number of greeters and approved vendor sites near the ports, as well," Nicholson-Doty said.

The Department of Tourism conducts online surveys to assess cruise and overnight visitor experiences as well as exit surveys, "and we are considering more interactive measures for assessing surveys, such as point of sale at the cruise ports and airports," she said.

Bermuda has three cruise ship ports. Front Street in Hamilton Harbour is in the capital city in the center of town. King's Wharf, known as the Royal Dockyard on the western tip of the island, has two berths. The original pier is Kings Wharf, and the second, called Heritage Wharf, was added in May 2009.

Ordinance Pier is in front of the main square in St. George's Harbour at the far eastern tip of Bermuda.

Vendors at all three ports are required to have a peddler's license issued by the government and administered by the magistrates courts to sell goods on the streets at the terminals.

"The closest and only people that can approach cruise passengers are the transportation providers, such as taxis and minibus drivers," said a Bermuda Department of Tourism spokesman.

There are three shops close to the Royal Naval Dockyard piers, and these are regulated by the West End Development Corp.

"At the piers, there is no harassment, no begging and no other wares sold in that area, which is gated and monitored by a security guard and a wooden barrier gate," the spokesman said.

Ports in Nassau and Freeport in the Bahamas operate on a Code of Conduct established by the Ministry of Tourism. The code forbids solicitation of cruise passengers outside of designated shops in the terminal area. (See story below for more on Nassau's port.) 
"Shouting at guests in order to acquire sales or to get the attention of visitors" also is a violation of the Code of Conduct.

St. Kitts pierSt. Kitts has taken a proactive approach, as well. "Vendors of services and merchandise sometimes are overly aggressive toward visitors in their anxiety to make a sale, and can spoil the visitor experience in the process," said Minister of Tourism Ricky Skerritt.

In 2009, St. Kitts passed the Licensing of Vendors Act and the Prescribed Areas Act, both of which work to regulate the operations of all vendors in the tourist areas, including Port Zante.

The government also developed its Ambassadors program to train and certify taxi drivers and bus operators. It plans to roll out training and certification programs for vendors, as well.

This spring, St. Kitts distributed cruise passenger surveys during peak cruise season to determine customer satisfaction levels.

Cruise passengers arriving in Aruba dock at the port in the capital of Oranjestad, within walking distance of shops and restaurants.

"Our passengers pass through the cruise terminal, which has some retail stores and an information booth manned by Aruba Tourism Authority personnel," said Ronella Tjin Asjoe-Croes, the organization's CEO. "It's all very organized."

Hassling tourists is not permitted anywhere in Aruba, including in the port, on the beaches or at attractions or stores.

"We do not want that to be part of the visitor experience," Asjoe-Croes said. "We have a special force called the Visibility Team that patrols the streets to make sure that all is safe and secure at all times."

St. John's, Antigua, another high-volume cruise port, imposed regulations for Heritage Quay, its port area, last November as a means of registering and controlling vendors and taxi drivers in the port.

The police, who enforce the regulations, can arrest unauthorized vendors and seize their wares as well as remove vehicles not lawfully parked in the port area.

The St. John's Development Corp. recognizes the St. John's Taxi Association as the sole authorized taxi operator at the port and limits the number of taxis in the area at any given time.

The government also stepped up the police presence at Heritage Quay, at both the port and the nearby shopping center.

Legislation at Port Seraphine at Castries, St. Lucia, prohibits solicitation by vendors, said Anne-Margaret Xavier, director of product development for the Ministry of Tourism.

"Bona fide shopkeepers who lease space at the port can sell to visitors," she said. "Harassment is at a minimum ... because of the presence of port police."

Within certain areas of the port, there is a no-harassment policy enforced by the St. Lucia Air and Sea Ports Authority. A second policy now being considered would prohibit vendors from operating within certain distances of the port.

Ryan Blackett, director of cruise tourism for the Barbados Tourism Authority, said "very few cases of harassment" had been reported at the Bridgetown Cruise Terminal. He said the recent Business Research & Economic Advisors Report found that cruise visitor satisfaction at the terminal is among the highest in the Caribbean, at 7.7 out of an index of 10.

Cozumel, which has three terminals for cruise lines, has policies in place to protect passengers when they disembark, according to the Cozumel Municipal Tourism Board.

The number of vendors allowed at one time at each pier is controlled, and vendors are required to carry a permit or license that indicates the kind of products they can sell and the times they are allowed to be at the terminals.

The Tourism Board keeps tab on customer satisfaction through regular surveys of cruise and land-based tourists.