Tour operators say cruise-ship business lost

Enjoying  some ''fush and chups'' in Port Chalmers yesterday are cruise-ship passengers (from left) Steve and Carmel Yee and Sandie and Mark Hillard, all of Australia. Mr Hillard said they had enjoyed their day in Dunedin which included going on the Monarch wildlife cruise. They also relished a late afternoon in ''quaint'' Port Chalmers. ''We had to have some Kiwi fush and chips,'' he said. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Enjoying some ''fush and chups'' in Port Chalmers yesterday are cruise-ship passengers (from left) Steve and Carmel Yee and Sandie and Mark Hillard, all of Australia. Mr Hillard said they had enjoyed their day in Dunedin which included going on the Monarch wildlife cruise. They also relished a late afternoon in ''quaint'' Port Chalmers. ''We had to have some Kiwi fush and chips,'' he said. Photo by Craig Baxter.

Some smaller Dunedin tour and shuttle operators say a new booking system for cruise-ship passengers is putting them out of business.

Operators say several of the 40-plus operators who work at peak season have already stopped seeking cruise-ship business and others say they are on the verge of quitting, after making little or no money this year.

Ron Harvey, from Dunedin Limousine Services, said he had been making a comfortable income from cruise-ship visitors for 12 years. Last year, he did more than 80 trips from 88 cruise-ship visits.

This season, he had had only three jobs so far, and his income was down so much he was seriously considering closing.

Kevin Gallagher, from Gallagher Shuttles, said he had made $9000 from cruise passengers by this time last year. So far this season, since the new system was introduced, he had made $2500.

The new system prevents tour operators from going on the wharf to attract business, and requires all tour bookings to be pre-booked or made through an i-Site visitor tent.

It was introduced after Port Otago received complaints from passengers, cruise lines and other tour operators, and an expression of concern from Cruise New Zealand, about unruly behaviour from a few operators competing for business on the wharf.

Dunedin City Council visitor industry business development adviser Sophie Barker said passengers were able to book any of the many private tours, without favour, on the wharf, via the i-Site visitor tent, which passengers went through as they departed the ship.

A local bus service was available from Port Chalmers to Dunedin, as an option.

Shuttles were operated by the cruise ships, and trips mostly sold to passengers on board, outside of the DCC's control. Ships also promoted certain aspects of destinations, which could affect what passengers wanted to do.

Council staff had had three meetings with operators and given them advice on how to make passengers aware of them, even providing a checklist on how to better promote themselves, she said.

''We have tried to help them, but a lot of people are competing for a very little bit of business, for only about 60 days a year.''

Research showed only about 200 people of those coming ashore in Dunedin from each ship were not already committed to an activity.

''If [operators] don't get modern, and get on TripAdvisor or establish a website, then they are invisible until the last minute.''

There was no question of the wharf being reopened to operators, so affected businesses would have to put in extra effort.

At least three operators are travelling to Akaroa to catch Dunedin-bound passengers there and pre-book them on Dunedin tours.

Ann Hayward, of Iconic Tours, said things had changed, but she was relying more on her website for bookings and the company's presence on travel recommendation website TripAdvisor, a site many cruise passengers used, was also working well. She was full most cruises.

Sharon Byles, of Hop-it, however, was not. She said she was getting more bookings through her website, but it was not covering her losses of direct bookings on the wharf.

Last year, she got at least one job from each visit she was available for, but this season was ''a waste of time''. From 26 visits so far, she had four jobs, and was struggling to stay afloat.

She believed the problem was the operators' lack of visibility. Passengers could not see them and, when they got off the ships, could not find the options they were looking for, as i-Site staff were not selling tours like operators could themselves.

She also said i-Site staff seemed to be pointing passengers in the direction of only a few operators. Other operators expressed the same concerns.

''Passengers will ruin this industry for Dunedin, if they are kept unhappy. They [DCC] must put us back [on the wharf],'' Ms Byles said.

Cruise-ship passengers recently told the ODT they would have got a private mini van or private tour of Dunedin if a van had been waiting at the wharf.

Others said they stayed in Port Chalmers because the cruise ship-organised shuttles to Dunedin were too expensive.

Various people suggested the city council could do more to promote local tour and shuttle operators and to get cruise passengers into Dunedin.

Mr Harvey said he had been assured at a meeting with i-Site staff last week that staff were not promoting any operators over others, and they would work to improve their systems, but there was little more that could be done.

- debbie.porteous@odt.co.nz

Organisation is the key

When travelling there is no way in hell I wouldn't have booked and paid (usually) for shuttles and transport already when I am visiting foreign countries.  So I would NOT wait for a visitors i-site tent on a wharf to book something to travel into the city I was visiting.  So why would passengers wait?  And if it was disorganised and non-structured in any way I would just give up.  There must be a better system.  I would hate to waste time organising something in port when I could get on a pre-paid/organised shuttle.  It boggles the mind.  No wonder it devolved into a bit of a free for all before.

Righteous

Oh please - tour operators all over the world sleep in their cars, first in. A few fights, great, let's show the tourists it's just the same here as it is in London, Spain, India et al.

Your attitude along with the DCC and Port Otago is all wrong.

It smacks of favoritism and perfection. Like tourists shouldn't see the real culture?

Go to Egypt and see how they do it - every man and his dog are out there hustling /jockeying for position and may the best woman win. It's called entrepreneurship.

Speak the New Zealand

Technically, Boldor, 'fush' for fish is the 'dropped I', quite common and nothing to be ashamed of. It is heard from Tawa northwards. I think it less than witted to say things like 'You're not English, are you? I say, would you care for a Sausage?' 'Que?'.

Losing it

Quite honestly I agree with Hype.O.Thermia.

Wake up Port Otago and DCC. You're losing it and losing it big time fast!

Fush and chups?

What in god's name are fush and chups? I personally don't know anybody who refers to fish and chips in this way. It makes the people of NZ sound like a bunch of halfwits.

Scorched-earth problem-solving

"...Port Otago received complaints from passengers, cruise lines and other tour operators, and an expression of concern from Cruise New Zealand, about unruly behaviour from a few operators competing for business on the wharf."  

So why go all Draconian?  Because it's easy and doesn't require any thought?  Surely it would not have been hard to identify the operators about whom complaints were made, who were seen fighting, who were found sleeping in their vehicles overnight.  Bar those ones - not forever, perhaps a 2-ship ban in the first instance and maybe a second chance after that with a longer ban. Then it could be a permanent ban from the wharf.

Doesn't it add to the "buzz" for the cruise passengers when they can see eager locals offering a variety of experiences?  While fighting and being hassling are unpleasant, an atmosphere of bustling excitement on a stop overflowing with possibilities is more joyous than too much bland over-regulated efficiency. 

Professionals and the rest

I'm sorry that some operators feel that it is fault of Port Otago and the iSite that they have lost business but the truth is they only have themselves to blame for the present situation.

Following incidents such as operators sleeping in their vehicles all night and port staff having to break up fights between operators the present system was introduced to protect Dunedins reputation among cruise lines as a reliable destination. More professional operators who market direct to potential clients via websites and through the iSite have no quarrel with the new arrangements but an unrepresentative group of mostly part time operators are trying to blame the Port and the DCC for problems that they themselves are causing.

If they were prepared to put as much effort in to raising their game as they do to blaming others for their problems they may  prosper.

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