Wharf ban hurts: operators

Tour operators say being banned from the Port Chalmers wharf is hurting their profits. Photo from...
Tour operators say being banned from the Port Chalmers wharf is hurting their profits. Photo from Allied Press files.
Several Dunedin tourism operators say they are missing out on thousands of dollars from cruise-ship passengers after being banned from the wharf at Port Chalmers but experts say an online presence is the key to attracting the tourists' cash, as only 3% decide to book tours on the day. Star reporter Jonathan Chilton-Towle looks into the issue.

Every year, cruise ships bring rich rewards to Dunedin's economy but some tour operators feel they are missing out.

Previously, tour companies were able to sell tours to passengers on the wharf but last year Port Otago banned operators from the wharf, citing unruly behaviour.

Instead, operators were allowed to advertise with a single A3 poster and brochures at the wharf iSite and passengers were able to book tours there or online.

Tours were also advertised in the ODT Cruise Guide, which was given to disembarking passengers. A few companies that had contracts with the cruise lines were allowed on to the wharf.

Speaking at a cruise-ship debriefing meeting on Tuesday, several tour operators said being banned from the wharf was hurting their profits. A few disagreed saying they had had a good season.

One driver said he had been to the first 12 cruise ships of the season and had only attracted one passenger. The lack of business had cost him 40% of his yearly income.

Another said in the season before the ban he had about 65 jobs from cruise-ship passengers. This season it was down to 25 jobs, a loss of about $25,000.

Diamond Limousines owner Calvin Hooper told The Star he had not been involved with the cruise ships this season for health reasons but if operators had been allowed on the wharf his wife would have been there in his stead.

In the past, his business had made about $100,000 (not taking into account costs) in the cruise season. This season, he had missed out on that income.

Mr Hooper believed the ban was unfairly feeding a couple of bigger operators who were allowed on to the wharf to shuttle passengers into town, to the detriment of other operators.

Operators put forward a few ideas to remedy the problem, including allowed them to rent space for stalls in the wharf marquee or allowing a limited number of operators on to the wharf to promote their tours.

One proposed banning all operators, including shuttles, from the wharf to create a level playing field.

However, University of Otago marketing lecturer Dr James Henry said research showed 73% of cruise passengers booked tours before cruises, and 23% booked during the cruise.

Only 3% of passengers booked tours when they were in port - this amounted to between 60 to 100 people.

Having a strong online presence was key to attracting visitors, he said.

Port Otago commercial manager Peter Brown said there was no way operators would be allowed back on to the wharf but everything else was on the table.

Operators' comments would be taken to the Cruise Action Group (which includes the port, the council and other bodies) and it would make recommendations on how to proceed by May at the earliest.


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