Throughout the world, cruise ship tourism is booming. The worldwide annual passenger capacity will grow from an estimated 26.7 million passengers in 2018, to 39.6 million in 2027. The most popular destinations are the Caribbean (39 %), Asia Pacific (16%) and the Mediterranean (14%). The Asia Pacific market is expected to grow by almost 40% to around 7 million passengers in 2023 (Cruise Industry News, 2018). Australia is one of the countries that contributes to the growth. In Australia, the number of cruise passengers has quadrupled since 2008. With 5.3% of the Australian population taking a cruise, Australia leads the world in terms of market penetration (CLIA, 2017). The fast-growing Australian cruise market influences nearby countries, including the small island nation of Vanuatu.
Vanuatu is an island state in the South Pacific Ocean, west of Fiji. The country consists of 83 islands, and its capital, Port Vila, lies on the island of Efate. The current population is around 280,000 people (World Population Review, 2018). The country is known for its beautiful nature, spectacular land diving, adventure activities and culture. The tourism sector produces approximately 65% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (Garae, 2017).
Cruise ships have been operating to Vanuatu from Australia since the 1930s (Douglas, 1997; Douglas & Douglas, 2004). From 2010 to 2016, cruise passenger numbers in Vanuatu almost doubled from 140,000 in 2010, to 254,000 in 2016 (VNSO, 2018). These arrivals were divided over 6 ports, with Port Vila being the most regularly visited.
Cruise ship tourism has a big economic impact, bringing money and employment into a country. However, the rapid growth of the cruise industry has also put a spotlight on its impacts on the natural environment and the local communities and economies (Klein, 2011). In recent years, the cruise industry has been subject to criticism. Several studies support the idea that the economic benefits of cruise tourism are overstated and do not compensate for the negative impacts (e.g. Bonilla-Priego et al., 2014; Klein, 2011; Wilkinson, 1999).
To the researcher’ knowledge, there have only been four studies conducted on cruise tourism in Vanuatu in the last 20 years. Three of the four studies have been on the economic impact. These studies are unclear on how data was gathered (SPTO, 2014), are written for the stakeholder who is likely to have a big interest in promoting cruise tourism (World Bank Group, DFAT-Australia & Carnival Australia, 2014) or were conducted 15 years ago (Douglas & Douglas, 2004).
The objective of the thesis project underlying this article was to analyse demand and supply for cruise tourism, cruise tourism stakeholders, and cruise related trends and development in Port Vila. Thereby, the focus was on the stakeholders’ perceptions and attitudes towards cruise tourism, their challenges and opportunities and their attitude towards future developments. The ambition was to recommend stakeholders and policy makers on how to improve cruise tourism development.
Qualitative data was gathered in a three-week period in August 2018. The methods used were semi-structured interviews, participant observation and informal interviews and conversations. In total, 28 interviews were conducted. The division of the sample among stakeholder groups was as follows: one tourism body, one municipal government body, one duty free shop, five tour operators, five hotels & resorts, three restaurants & cafés, seven handicraft vendors, one transport provider, two cruise passengers, one cruise line and one real estate company.
Findings and Discussions
A thematic analysis showed multiple themes that represent the stakeholders’ perceptions of cruise tourism.
According to several stakeholders the demographics of people on board have changed. Lambert & Dowling (2017) confirm that there has been a major change in passenger profiles, with a shift away from older retirees to a range of small but growing markets. Families, retirees and young couples are now all cruising. Nowadays, it is possible to buy a cruise from Australia to Port Vila for under $100 a day (PO Cruises, 2018). Partly because of this, cruise passengers spend a lot less than they used to do. Respondents also mentioned that cruise lines focus more on on-board sales, which results in people not spending a lot in Port Vila. This is in fact a logical consequence of the pricing strategy of cruise lines. As Vogel (2017) mentioned, without on board spending, cruise lines would make a big operating loss. Therefore, cruise lines encourage on-board spending.
Moreover, many respondents perceived that there are only a few entities that benefit a lot from cruise tourism, while the rest fights for the crumbs. The main beneficiaries are the cruise lines, the inbound tour operator, the wharf operator, tour operators and duty-free shops. The majority of these are foreign owned (mainly Australian and New Zealand owned). This is explored by Diedrich (2010), who mentions that cruise tourism is often considered unsustainable because most economic benefits do not accrue to local people. Research by MacNeill & Wozniak (2018) in Honduras showed that cruise tourism proceeds seem to be captured by Honduran elites and foreign investors. This seems to be the case for Port Vila too.
Another theme from the interviews is that the lack of a proper cruise tourism infrastructure changes the way cruise visitors experience Port Vila. The arrival in the harbour in Port Vila is not a well organised, inviting welcome. Cruise passengers’ first physical contact with the destination should be positive, as first impressions are lasting impressions (Haahti & Yavas, 2004). Cruise tourism can be used to showcase the destination, which can potentially lead to thousands of cruise passengers returning on a land-based holiday (Brida et al., 2012).
Furthermore, residents’ and air tourists’ day to day activities are affected negatively by cruise passengers. It was mentioned several times that air tourists try to avoid cruise passengers. Because of cruise passengers, attractions might be full, and the city can become too busy. As air travellers spend more money than cruise passengers, this is an issue that should be looked into carefully.
Even though few interviewees mentioned environmental impacts, it is a factor that should be taken into account. Impacts mentioned by the interviewees were sights exceeding their carrying capacity resulting in damage, disposal of waste by the ships and oil spills in the harbour. The environmental carrying capacity of the destination is an important factor to consider in managing impacts (Johnson, 2002).
It is important to mention that there is currently no long-term cruise tourism strategy, and stakeholders believe there is a lack of understanding of tourism at the top level of government. To create a clear and successful strategy, stakeholder participation is key. As the findings of this research show, the perception of stakeholders towards cruise tourism is not homogenous. It will be important to discuss attitudes, perceptions and concerns. Researchers agree that sustainable tourism development is possible when there is collaborative policymaking: all stakeholders working together to plan and regulate tourism development (Vernon et al., 2005).
Even though several negative attitudes to some aspects of cruise ship tourism were shown, most of the interviewed stakeholders are positive about the further development of cruise tourism. Most stakeholders perceive that benefits outweigh the costs. It is important, however, to keep in mind that not all stakeholders are in favour of further development. This is in line with research by several other scholars, who also found that attitudes towards further development were not homogeneous (Hritz & Cecil, 2008; Brida et al., 2011; Pulina et al., 2013).
Based on the findings, seven recommendations are given that could help increase and spread the economic benefits of cruise tourism to the country, while decreasing some of its negative impacts. 1. Create a (cruise) tourism development plan together with all stakeholders. 2. Improve the embarkation process of cruise passengers 3. Spread benefits and stimulate Ni Vanuatu business 4. Minimize negative environmental impacts and embrace opportunities. 5. Minimize negative cultural impacts and optimize cultural opportunities. 6. Collaborate with cruise lines to increase passenger spending. 7. Conduct independent quantitative research on cruise passengers.