Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Isle of Man Cruises?

Another classic backwards Isle of Man example.  There is "talk" of us getting a deep water berth so that we can attract more cruise visitors.

Once again the crabs fly out with their "it's all bullshit", "the island is crap", "there is nothing to do here", "we don't want change" bollocks.

I've been on a lot of cruises over the last 10 years or so, a lot.  More than I'd ever have really wanted to!  In life I try to judge things on first hand experience and luckily in this case I've got quite a bit.  So on European cruises you generally get 2 types of customer.  First of all the classic Brit/European.  The cruise is seen as a chance for an all inclusive summer holiday where they can get dressed up, buy a lot of booze on board yet never have far to stumble back to their bed.  If they have a family there is cheap baby sitting and kids entertainment chucked in.  We want nice weather.  When it comes to getting off the ship unless it is something they desperately want to see they will wander around the local area, perhaps buy some cheap tat then get back on the ship for lunch to save them having to spend any money on food.  Of course there are exceptions but this is pretty average and covers younger families all the way up to your classic pensioners.  On the smaller ships that visit the island this is the majority of what we get, just take a look in Strand Street on a cruise day and you'll spot them from a mile off.  Generally you don't make money off these people, the cruise lines do, the places they visit don't.

The second type of guest on European cruises is the American family on their major European vacation.  They are here to see Europe, history and have absolutely no bones about signing up for EVERY excursion going.  The weather doesn't matter, nor does travel times or little else for that matter.  They want to see historical shit no matter the cost.  They also want to buy stuff in Europe, cos you know it's from Europe.  They want local food, even if it's just a Walls choc ice in Rome (yes really).  We were once on a tour in Turkey with a group of Americans with Royal Caribbean.  It was supposed to be a historical tour of Ephesus but on the way it stopped at a leather jacket factory.  We all watched the presentation, the other couple of Brits left, the Americans who we were good friends with by then continued to empty the factory shop.  Between the 40-50 of them they must have bought at least that number of jackets, the cheapest of which was £500, some were over £2000!  They were buying them up as presents for family back home, the same jacket in multiple colours, it was brilliant to watch how excited the Turks were. No doubt you could have bought the same jacket from a local shop in town for £50.  We have been on countless tours with those types of cruise guest who get hyper at looking at a few rocks, wet themselves over a "genuine" castle, any castle. We've done the 6 hour tour to look at the thing in the middle of nowhere that turns out to be a grass mound and seen the excited reactions whilst we look on dumb struck thinking "WTF we have dozens of these back home".  In another instance I remember an American woman asking for a shops wifi so that she could use her online banking to transfer money in to her checking account cos she just had to "buy one of these for everybody back home".  It is the cruise lines and how they market a "stop" that creates the frenzy, they can turn nothing in to a must see, once on board a cruise ship you are bombarded with it.

Then because we've raved so much about how "back home" compares to where we are a few have even came to the island to see for themselves, and to a person they have absolutely loved the place!  If for one minute you think there isn't enough history, local culinary delights and unique attributes here to surpass a LOT (as in the vast majority) of European cruise destinations then you need to get out and explore your own island more.

But here comes the big BUT.  There are certain things that need to be right.  Make no mistake about it Douglas is a shit hole, a great big steaming turd of a shit hole.  As a bare minimum you expect to get off a cruise ship somewhere that is clean to walk around, I just took a walk around town this morning and there is fresh dog shit on just about every pavement away from the main street.  There are loads of rough cruise ports, run down, crap looking but always clean.  It's either that or you transfer everybody out of there ASAP, which to be honest wouldn't be a bad idea with Douglas.  The other thing is customer service, not just the meet and greet but in general.  We've found that they don't mind paying a premium but they expect the customer service to be friendly and polite.  They want to be appreciated and not treated like a cow ready for milking, or in the case of a lot of our local shops and services like an inconvenience.  If there is one thing that will get a place a bad reputation and shitty feedback on the end of cruise survey it's the attitude of the locals.  But again we have been places far worse than the Isle of Man so it could easily be resolved.

I also think that the whole £50 million back in 5 years is nonsense.  Lots of tender destinations do very well, it's not the tender process as a whole that is bad but the reliability.  Of course as a cruise guest it's much better to be able to dock because you can get off quicker but on every cruise we've ever been on those booked on excursions have priority to tender.  In other words your big spenders will always be able to get ashore first.  By berthing you are mostly enabling the "quick wander around and a bit of tat" an easier route off and a quicker route back on for their lunch.  And reliability is where we have the next big problem with the Isle of Man and why I suspect they want the deep water berth?  Our weather is fucking shit.  It's not the tender process, it's the "not" tender days when it's too rough to get anybody ashore.  I'm sure if you look back we get more than our fare share of them!  That's what really pisses cruise guests off and for some it's enough to hold a black mark against a place and the cruise line itself.  How do you get around that?  One option is to look at what they are doing with a deep water berth however there is NO WAY IN HELL that the government should be looking to spend that money.  The private sector absolutely has to get involved and then costs hammered down to the bare minimum.   I wouldn't trust our government to manage anything on that sort of scale, history tells you that the "yes men" with lovely ties in the civil service are fucking experts in spending other peoples money at the whim of a consultant without any notion of what's coming down the line.  Could it work?  If they can attract the right type of cruise guests and costs are controlled then yes, probably.  The island really does have a huge amount to offer but you need to get those that are happy to spend here to make it work.

The other much cheaper option is to take advantage of the fact we are a small island and that most of the time one side is going to be sheltered.  I'd look in to the feasibility of  having 2 or more tender landing locations, one on the east coast and one on the west.  Depending on the weather on the day depends on where you land.  Believe it or not the actual infrastructure for establishing a security area is all pretty mobile anyway and it's just a case of having a landing platform available in 2 locations.  Doesn't even have to be permanent.  The island is so small that it's hardly going to make any difference in terms of excursion timings and that type of thing.  As an added bonus on some days you're going to get people landing away from Douglas!  This isn't a new idea, we've been to plenty of locations where you berth but due to the weather, other shipping etc etc you don't find out which berth you're at until you wake up.  I can't see any reason why that couldn't work here?

At the end of the day you are more likely to attract the bigger ships carrying the sort of people who are likely to spend more money (cough American  cough) if you can give the cruise line at least the expectation that they will be able to get people ashore for the day.  Once ashore the Isle of Man has loads to offer that history hungry, local product hunting cruise guest and with a better attitude towards our own unique history and culture there isn't any reason why we couldn't cash my opinion.

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