This is a response to Rudo de Graaf’s article ‘Stakeholders’ perception on cruise tourism in Port Vila, Vanuatu‘.
I have read the article by Rudo De Graaf on the perception of stakeholders about cruise tourism with great pleasure. The only justified conclusion is that he hits the nail on the head in many ways.
It is obvious that cruise tourism on a global scale will grow strongly in the next decades. With approximately 30 million passengers in 2019 it can be expected that the 40 million mark of annual cruise passengers will be reached before the end of this decade. Closely related to this growth an interesting figure emerges, namely the penetration rate. Here the Australians, with a rate of 5.3%, lead the pack, closely followed by the British and the Germans. Basically, this means that of all Australians that go on a holiday, more than one in 20 persons chooses to go on a cruise. We cannot even imaging what the consequences will be of the emerging Chinese market. Although the cruise market in many ways is still mainly dominated by American cruise tourists, the Chinese tourists are already in second place in terms of annual number of cruise passengers (CLIA, 2019). This could indirectly force a major shift in terms of cross-cultural experiences. Recent studies have shown a significant difference in how a cruise is experienced by American cruise passengers compared with European cruise tourists (Vermeulen, 2015). But both Americans and Europeans represent a more western type of cruise tourism. There is a big gap in academic research regarding how Chinese tourists experience cruises
In his thesis project De Graaf focused on stakeholders’ perceptions and attitudes towards cruise tourism in Port Vila, Vanuatu. The current population of this capital is around 280,000 people. With an annual number of 254,000 cruise visitors in 2016 it is obvious that there is an enormous pressure on the local carrying capacity. Therefore, strategic decisions related to sustainable tourism on a national, regional and local level are required. According to Page & Connell (2014) there is good practice to be found in visitor management. This approach aims to protect the environment while providing for visitor enjoyment and therefore this could support the decision-making process. In my personal view in the case of Port Vila thorough research into four types of carrying capacity should be initiated: physical, perceptual, economic and ecological. Most research focuses on the economic and physical part of the carrying capacity of a site, but the other two types should not be neglected.
De Graaf already noted that there were some frictions between cruise tourists and air tourists. This could indicate that the limit of the perceptual carrying capacity has already been reached. To underpin this thought one should grab the opportunity to investigate the number of people that may be accommodated on a site before the visitor experience is damaged. In other words, when a growth in the number of cruise and air passengers coming to Vanuatu in the next few years can be expected this obviously means a strong increase of pressure on all types of carrying capacity as well. The need for strategic decisions will grow equally. The question is who should take initiative to make these decisions.
De Graaf writes very useful recommendations and indicates what needs to be done. Perhaps the most important recommendation is the need for a cruise tourism development plan in which all stakeholders cooperate. And here a very dangerous pitfall emerges because how can the main interests of all different stakeholders be united within a framework in which all will benefit? Perhaps a way to get this done is to look for examples of best practice. From this perspective a closer look into the Rotterdam Partners organisation could be useful. They represent a successful cooperation between companies, citizens and visiting corporations, and tourists. Rotterdam Partners is a one stop organisation for all relevant stakeholders in which everyone can participate.
Finally, one thing must be considered: The power of the international cruise line corporations. Again, De Graaf rightly concludes that the local economic benefits of receiving cruise tourists are sometimes overestimated and certainly do not fall into the hands of all local stakeholders. In the case of Vanuatu there is a significant financial leakage in favour of foreign entrepreneurs. Furthermore, it can be expected that the strategy of cruise lines will further develop towards an increase of onboard spending, instead of spending money on land. The question is how to counter this development. In my personal view this can be compared with climbing a mountain, the top of which cannot be reached. This is because international cruise lines will always have one big advantage: they are footloose. When they are not welcome in a specific area or when profits do not respond to expectations, they simply pick up their ships and transfer their capacity to other, more profitable regions. The buying power of cruise corporations is related to this. The main attraction of most destinations, like Vanuatu, is the landscape and the weather. To a certain level these physical attractions can be consumed free of charge. So why not buy the whole package? Recent trends show that cruise lines simply buy tropical islands and gain total control of them. Where this development will lead to is uncertain and unclear. I invite future academics to conduct research into this topic.