By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Just 36 per cent of cruise ship passengers visiting the Bahamas purchase a shore excursion offered by local providers, a survey produced for the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) ranking this nation next-to-last in this category.
The FCCA’s Economic Impact of Cruise Tourism report, released this week, provided further data to indicate that the industry’s economic benefits are not being fully enjoyed by Bahamian entrepreneurs and tourism businesses, as just 26.3 per cent of shore excursions and tours were purchased directly from local operators.
Indeed, the lion’s share of tours - some 63.8 per cent in the Bahamas - are sold by the cruise lines themselves to their passengers.
Initially, the survey indicated that the cruise lines appear to enjoy a disproportionate share of the rewards, as the FCCA report showed they enjoy a 130 per cent mark-up over the price Bahamian tour/excursion providers charge cruise passengers themselves.
The report placed the average price of a Bahamian excursion sold by the cruise lines at $72.01, and that sold directly by a local operator at $31.31.
But, with the cruise lines paying “between 55 per cent and 75 per cent” of the fees they received from passengers to local tour operators, the study calculated that the ‘Local Effective Price of a Tour’ in the Bahamas was $43.10 per head - higher than the Caribbean region’s $36.41 average.
But, while this country was one of only five to enjoy a price above $40 per passenger, the study - conducted for the FCCA by Business Research and Economic Advisors (BREA) - showed that almost two-thirds of cruise visitors calling on Nassau and Freeport are not purchasing local tours and excursions.
This reduces the ‘trickle down’ economic impact from the cruise sector, and the FCCA report said: “Eighty-two per cent of passengers visiting Costa Rica purchased a shore excursion, while only 36 per cent of passengers visiting the Bahamas did so.........
“Fewer than half of visiting passengers reported purchasing shore excursions in the following seven destination: the Bahamas (36.3 per cent), Curacao (49.9 per cent), Puerto Rico (48.9 per cent), St. Maarten (46.6 per cent), St. Vincent and the Grenadines (35.6 per cent), the Turks and Caicos (44.2 per cent) and the US Virgin Islands (45.5 per cent).
“This is a diversified group of destinations that includes four of the most popular or high volume destinations.”
Only the St Vincent and the Grenadines had a lower take-up of local tours and excursions than the Bahamas, with 63.7 per cent of visitors to the Bahamas not choosing to embark on such activities.
This has been widely known among Bahamian shore excursion providers for some time, with many complaining - although mostly privately - about the mark-ups the cruise ships enjoy, and the discounts they are forced to endure.
The FCCA report disclosed that 63.8 per cent of shore excursions sold in the Bahamas were from the cruise lines, with just 26.3 per cent bought directly from Bahamian operators. The remaining 9.9 per cent were sold through travel agents and other distribution channels.
“There were only five destinations in which shore operators accounted for about 25 per cent or more of tour purchases,” the FCCA report said.
“These were: the Bahamas (26.3 per cent), the British Virgin Islands (24.9 per cent), Grenada (23.1 per cent), Puerto Rico (31.3 per cent) and St. Vincent and the Grenadines (29.3 per cent).”
And further bad news for Bahamian tour/shore excursion providers came from this nation’s 19th out of 21 countries ranking for cruise visitors’ satisfaction with their tours, with 10 per cent - one out of every 10 - expressing their unhappiness. This could indicate a need for the Bahamas to expand and upgrade its excursion offering.
The FCCA report also revealed that the Bahamas was ranked as a ‘middle of the pack’ nation, in comparison to its peers, on many key attributes related to the cruise industry.
The Bahamas ranked 20th out of 21 nations when it came to attracting first-time cruise visitors, with just 47 per cent of passengers coming here for the inaugural time. Only the US Virgin Islands were lower.
This probably reflects the Bahamas’ maturity as a destination, but it also scored badly on the ‘shoreside welcome’ given to visitors - dropping to 15th, with just 87 per cent ‘satisfied’.
The Bahamas also slipped slightly on satisfaction with store employees, falling to 14th as 11 per cent of cruise passengers said they were unhappy.
And the same percentage also said they were uninformed on the activities available in the Bahamas, putting this nation 17th in the Caribbean.
There was better news, though, for the Bahamian hotel and tourism industry when it came to stopover conversion. This nation ranked third in the Caribbean, with 63 per cent of cruise passengers likely to return for a land-based visit.