2019 Cruise Ship Impact on Local Transportation and Spending

Thursday, November 28th, 2019

Good morning everyone,

I am here today to talk about the Ministry of Tourism and Transport’s research this past summer on the influence and impact of the cruise ship industry on local transportation and visitor spending in Bermuda.

By way of background, the Ministry of Tourism and Transport, in consultation with the Bermuda Tourism Authority, is finalising a ‘Cruise Ship Strategy’ that will provide a framework for Bermuda’s strategy for visiting cruise ships for the next ten years.

At the same time, the Ministry has developed a 10 year ‘Transportation Infrastructure Plan’ and once this is incorporated into an updated ‘Transportation Management Plan’ for Bermuda, it will support many of the initiatives outlined in the Transport Green Paper which was published in May of 2019.

As these two strategies were under development, Hamilton retailers, some of whom are represented here today, brought forward additional concerns regarding cruise ship visits to Bermuda.  

Their concerns centred on the allegation that cruise lines unfairly influence passenger spending when the vessel is in port through foreign third-party promotional companies.

These companies, who facilitate on-board Port and Shopping Lectures, are alleged to favour only shops that advertise in their ‘Port Shopping Guide’ to the detriment of other Bermudian retailers.

So today, I would like to share with you some of the details surrounding the Ministry’s two ‘secret shopping cruises’ which were undertaken in July and August of this year on two of Bermuda’s ‘contract cruise ships’ and to expand on what was ultimately learnt from these experiences.

This year, Bermuda was projected to receive the largest number of cruise ship calls and cruise ship passengers in our history of being associated with the cruise ship industry.

We were forecasting 194 ship calls and 545,000 passengers in 2019 compared to 130 calls and 356,000 passengers in 2014.

This represents an increase of 49% in the number of cruise ship calls and a 53% increase in the number of cruise ship passengers visiting Bermuda over the past five years.

With that positive level of forecast, we would expect tourism related business sectors to be experiencing reasonably good growth . And, indeed, some are!

In researching concerns related to cruise ship visitation, the Ministry focused on the issues identified in the ‘Transport Green Paper’ relating to the lack of frictionless transportation services.

In addition, we focused on other issues brought to our attention this year by the public and visitors regarding long queues for public transportation and attractions, and what is said aboard cruise ships about Bermuda in the Port and Shopping Lectures.

It became apparent to us very quickly that we would need to experience Bermuda as a ‘cruise ship visitor’ in order to properly separate fact from fiction.

Prior to embarking on what is now known as the ‘secret shopping trips’ the Ministry of Tourism and Transport consulted with the Department of Consumer Affairs and were advised that there were 7 potential offences relating to unfair business practices under the Consumer Protection Act 1999 that should be considered when conducting our due diligence.

The Ministry’s Technical Officer is Stacey Evans.

Stacy is responsible for transport planning and she spearheaded the ‘Transport Green Paper’ initiative together with this summer’s fact-finding missions.

Stacy conducted the first ‘secret shopping trip’ (for levity, I’ll use the same description which has been adopted in the popular press) on-board the ‘Norwegian Escape’ in July.  

On her return, she conveyed her concerns to the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary about:

  • the ship using non-Bermuda photos to depict our island;
  • incorrect information given in the port lecture;
  • disparaging remarks made in the Shopping Lecture regarding transportation options and the high cost of taxis;
  •  the great emphasis given to sending passengers to just a few shops and restaurants featured on the port shopping map to the wholesale exclusion of numerous other fine establishments who did not advertise;
  • witnessing first-hand some of the potential offences listed in the Consumer Protection Act.

So, as a result the Permanent Secretary and Technical Officer recommended that I witness these issues first-hand so that I had a much greater understanding and a solid foundation from which to comment and implement an action plan.

The Technical Officer and I conducted the second ‘secret shopping trip’ for 5-days on-board the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s ‘Anthem of the Seas’ in August.

I saw first-hand what it is like to be a cruise ship passenger travelling to and from Bermuda, and more importantly, a what it was like to be a visitor in my ‘own backyard’.

Had I not been on-board the ‘Anthem of the Seas’ and witnessed for myself the impact that 8,000 cruise passengers have when two cruise ships are docked at the same time and then expand this to consider the further impact of 11,500 passengers arriving on even larger vessels I would not have had the first-hand knowledge to make a key decision: that was to say ‘no’ to the larger ‘Oasis Class’ ships that Royal Caribbean International proposed to bring to Bermuda starting in 2021.

 Bermuda is simply not ready (yet) for that magnitude of demands on our port, transport and product infrastructure.

I witnessed for myself what was actually being said about Bermuda on the voyage to the island and took note of the unrelated photographs being used to promote Bermuda.

I observed the contrast between a seeming lack of enthusiasm for Bermuda during the ‘Port Lecture’ but at the same time the exaggerated enthusiasm for various promoted establishments during the ‘Shopping Lecture’.

I assessed the on-board shopping opportunities before arriving in Bermuda – for example, you can buy 2 Bermuda tee-shirts for only $20 before you get to Bermuda – and with a critical eye, I reviewed the on-board information including maps, flyers, shore excursion offerings, port and shopping lectures, magazines, videos, TV advertising, directions and options for transportation, as well as, where and how to buy tokens and passes for public transportation.

Quite frankly, I was shocked at what I heard in the Port and Shopping Lectures.

One thing that stood out was the push for passengers to bring their receipts for purchases made on-island  at the ship’s recommended stores back to the ship in order to get an additional 30-day ship’s guarantee. This guarantee was not available for merchandise bought at any other establishment on the basis that they could not guarantee the quality of the products if they were not purchased at their recommended stores.

These port and shopping lectures are recorded and shown on the ships TV network 24-hours a day.

We found that stores recommended in this manner certainly influenced the shopping habits of passengers whilst also witnessing the detrimental effect this had on other local businesses who did not advertise in their programme.

The reasons for not advertising can vary but, as we understand it, it is largely because it is very expensive to advertise and track and pay commissions.

Whilst ‘undercover’ in Bermuda, we stood for 40-minutes to get public transportation tokens.

In fact, I was so impatient that I and left after 20-minutes, leaving my Technical Officer in-line for another 20-minutes.

We took public service vehicles to major attractions and to the beaches and from our ‘own pockets’ understand the cost of what a visitor pays to see and experience Bermuda.

We rode on public buses with standing room only, we experienced first-hand resident frustrations of not being able to get on a bus in Somerset and Southampton because it was full or had standing room only.

We rode ferries, took taxis, and, yes, we even relied on a ‘gypsy cab’ to get us back to the St. George’s ferry dock on time from Tobacco Bay.

Seeing Bermuda without the ease and comfort of my own car was a challenge, for sure.

As the Minister responsible for transport, I know what our product, challenges and capabilities are, however, it is a very different experience when you take a public bus or a taxi and the drivers believe you are a visitor and not the Minister of Tourism and Transport.

We were asked at Horseshoe Bay Beach if we had sand on our shoes or if we were wet, meaning, if we did, the driver would not have taken us to our next attraction.

On the public bus, I was the first to offer my seat to a resident, and stood patiently while other residents openly complained that we have too many tourists and not enough buses to get them to work.

I felt embarrassed for our visitors riding the bus, but at the same time I saw an urgent need to increase the bus service capacity to provide a more comfortable experience for our residents who rely on public transportation. 

At Crystal Caves, we were told there would be a two-hour wait to see the caves, so we had to pass.

We observed minibus drivers openly making it difficult for passengers to pay the exact cash fare price of $7 as the driver did not appear to have change for $10, $20 or $50 bills, leaving visitors little option but to pay more for the service.

Some taxi drivers and minibus drivers were aggressive with one another when plying for hire.

Now, I am sure that many of you have read articles in the press about the secret shopper cruise – all of which focussed solely on the cost and deliberately avoided any comment on the purpose of this initiative.

If I had not been on that ship and witnessed first-hand what Port Lecturers and Shopping Guides said about Bermuda and how they promote Bermuda to push passengers to the recommended stores, we would not have been able to identify key areas of concern, and address the misinformation given in these lectures by the cruise lines.

We now have a much better understanding of how local businesses are impacted by the lack of passenger foot traffic, especially in Hamilton; this despite the significant increase in cruise visitors.

One thing I can tell you, contrary to what may be thought, cruising to Bermuda is not cheap, especially if you book a solo cabin like I did.

After further due diligence this fall, my Ministry learnt that many retail shops affected by the downturn in the world’s economy or who do not specifically advertise in the cruise lines’ port shopping guide genuinely feel the loss of the cruise ship business that they once enjoyed.

Many shops have closed, or closed a satellite store location or are downsizing their businesses, particularly in Hamilton.

We understand from the Chair of the Retail Division of the Chamber of Commerce, here today, Mr. Somers Cooper, that over 200 Bermudian jobs have been lost in the retail business sector in the last two-years as a result of enforced redundancies or early retirements. 

This is significant.

I can confirm that the Ministry immediately addressed our findings with both of our contract cruise line partners in early October.

We shared with them 3 specific areas of concern in relation to the Consumer Protection Act that we observed whilst on-board the ‘Anthem of the Seas’ and which were also observed by my Technical Officer on-board the ‘Norwegian Escape’.

The lectures about Bermuda took place at sea and we recognise that our viewpoint is subjective but the areas of concern about Bermuda’s retail industry are:

  • a representation that the goods are of a standard, quality, grade, style or model if they are not;
  • a representation that a specific price advantage exists if it does not; and,
  • subjecting the consumer to undue pressure to enter into a transaction.

Our cruise partners were alarmed by our findings and apologised and have since taken positive steps to eradicate these practices.

The cruise lines have now met face to face with their third party promotional partners who provide the selling-at-sea personnel and on-board destination Port Lecturers and Shopping Guides on each ship.

The Ministry will be meeting with both RCCL and NCL in Bermuda this December for an update on the initiatives which they have implemented to eradicate these practices and what they are doing to promote more inclusive strategies.

In addition, the destination photos and videos are being switched out with new vibrant photos and videos of Bermuda.

As the Minister responsible for Tourism and Transport, it is my job to assess the state of the industry.

I am pleased to have been ‘out and about’ to see Bermuda through the eyes of a visitor.

The stakeholders who did recognise me when I was ‘out and about’ in Bermuda were positive in their comments and were happy see me in the ‘thick of things’ observing and experiencing first-hand what things are actually like on the ground!

Since the news article, I have had many people come up to me to say, ‘good job’, ‘that’s what we expect you to do’ and even people I don’t even know have written positive comments, so thank you all very much.

As an overview, I feel we are at a ‘tipping point’ for success.

I found Hamilton and St. George’s to be quiet with little dynamic activity compared with that available to passengers whilst onboard the ship.

I understand why we need more public buses and bus stop benches, as well as a digital fare media system to stop long queues for tokens and passes at Visitor Service Centers.

It is very obvious to me that we need taxi reform and better training for our front line public service vehicle drivers, in addition to more parking spaces at Horseshoe Bay Beach, and the list goes on and on!  

In closing, the Ministry of Tourism and Transport continues to receive (and welcome!) feedback on the Transport Green Paper.

It has helped guide additional research, as outlined here today, on transportation and the visitor experience through the eyes of the visitor.

We are using the information gained to help shape our future transportation infrastructure and cruise strategies.

I very much look forward to discussing these topics and more with you in the coming weeks and months.

Thank you.