Kangaroo Island has seen a significant growth in cruise ship visitation over the last decade from annual single digit numbers to 19 in 17/18 season and 28 during this 18/19 current season
And it seems the numbers are destined to grow.
The South Australian Tourism Commission has announced an ambitious goal of 100 cruise ships visiting South Australia by 2020. So where does this leave Kangaroo Island?
Noting recent letters to The Islander, conversations via Face Book and other forums and some comments around the place, I thought to delve more deeply into the subject of cruise ship visitation to Kangaroo Island and its impacts.
Tourism Kangaroo Island (TKI) is the peak tourism body on the island. They have played an important role in managing aspects of cruise ship arrival including monitoring economic benefit, passenger satisfaction levels, potential pressure points and resident perceptions about the impact of tourism on Kangaroo Island, including more recently the impact of cruise ship visitation.
Accordingly in the interest of obtaining a more accurate insight into cruise ship visit related matter I decided to interview TKI chairman Pierre Gregor on his thoughts and some of the local impacts of cruise ships:
The Islander: There are mixed views on the economic benefit to the island resulting from cruise ship visits with general comment being that visiting cruise ships do not bring much economic activity here. Has any work been done in this area?
Pierre Gregor: There have been several studies and reports completed on the economic impact of tourism on Kangaroo Island. The impact of cruise ship visitation is in fact quite significant.
Fairly recent figures provided through the SATC identify the direct contribution during the 2016/17 season to be in the order of $10m and an indirect benefit in the order of a further $10m.
The Islander: Its been argued that SeaLink are the main beneficiaries of cruise ship visits here. Is this correct?
Pierre: Sealink are definitely beneficiaries of the visits. To say that they are the main beneficiaries is a bit of a stretch. As a result of the cruise ship tours that SeaLink run there are local employment outcomes in areas such as drivers, cleaners, maintenance and of course also at some of the cellar doors, farm gates, eateries and experience providers that form part of the tour itineraries.
Other local tour operators are in the same boat and contribute to the wider economic activity through food purchases, fuel purchases, vehicle maintenance as well as bringing business to a similar range of operators that SeaLink supports.
The salaries of locals employed is invariably spent on the island and contributes to the economic activity on the island, in short the economic benefit is far broader than just a handful of operators.
The Islander: It’s said that cruise passengers may purchase a souvenir or two and participate in tours but do not attend local restaurants and eateries because of the availability of extensive food and menus on the ships so the passengers head back to the ship for lunch.
Pierre: Yes I have heard this as well but this is not consistent with the feedback that I have been getting from local beverage and food outlets. The eateries in Penneshaw like the Penneshaw Hotel, Fat Beagle, Two Birds and a Squid and others generally do extremely well, particularly with the larger ships.
Many of the tour packages bought by cruise ship passengers include a meals element so eateries across the whole Island benefit.
In addition to this there are now quite a few hire cars available for the “free and independent” passenger so many food outlets benefit from this demographic as well. Places like the Aurora Ozone Hotel and as far afield as the Chase Café report increased meal purchases.
The Islander: Does TKI have a strategy around cruise ship visitation?
Pierre: Yes TKI does have a cruise ship related strategy which was developed in 2013 and is just as relevant today. Basically this involves the facilitation of a quality experience of Kangaroo Island resulting in passengers leaving with a positively memorable and unique taste of the island so that they are motivated to return and/or promote the destination to others.
Strategy objectives include increasing expenditure from cruise line passengers, increasing awareness of KI to international and domestic visitors, and increasing return visitation. Behind this strategy lies monitoring satisfaction levels and the broader impacts of cruise visits on the island
The Islander: So is this strategy working?
Pierre: Yes I think it is. I have already mentioned the economic benefit and we have evidence of return visitation by cruise passengers as land based visitors looking for a longer stay.
Frankly it doesn’t matter whether 20 passengers return or 2000, because they are visitors that we may have not got if it wasn’t for the initial island exposure via cruise ships.
The Islander: Do cruise ships visiting the Island pay a disembarkation or landing fee. If not, do you believe that they should?
Pierre: Currently cruise ships visiting Kangaroo Island do not pay a landing or disembarkation fees. Should they? Yes the TKI Board thinks they should. During 2018 I had completed extensive research into what happens at other Australian cruise destinations and developed a discussion paper on the income that could be derived from potential cruise ship fees.
Based on current visitation figures this could, conservatively, bring in at least $150,000 to $200,000 depending on pricing regime being adopted. This discussion paper had been agreed by the Board, had been forwarded to Kangaroo Island Council and the Office of the Commissioner for KI.
There are some sensitivities and introduction of cruise landing fees will require government support however certainly locally there is an appetite for this to occur.
Most other cruise ship ports, whether passengers disembark while the ship is alongside a wharf or pier or utilise transfers by ships’ tenders, extract a fee from cruise ships. Kangaroo Island should be no different.
The Islander: Noting the projected growth in cruise ship numbers visiting South Australia and the potential flow on effect to Kangaroo Island, what do you see as the main challenges going forward?
Pierre: There are a number of critical challenges. The first is making sure that we deliver on visitor expectations that have been set as a result of our positioning in the market place through the various marketing collateral used.
Having said this we have to remember that cruise line passengers are day trippers and will therefore be restricted in what they can experience. In this regard it is vital that accurate information is disseminated on the ships that clearly details the associated limitations.
We also need to do what we can to preserve what it is that attracts visitors to Kangaroo Island in the first place.
That is an unspoiled, friendly environment and a destination that provides authentic experiences and encounters with wildlife. We need to maintain this point of difference.
I think we cannot afford to have “open slather” on cruise ship visitation. This needs to be monitored and managed and should include government, association, industry and resident involvement.
We need to be aware of the island’s carrying capacity, current and potential pressure points, visitor experiences and community feedback. Some of this is being monitored through the Tourism Optimisation Management Model via visitor exit surveys and resident surveys.
More work needs to be done in this area and TKI will be holding an open forum for industry and community at the end of the current cruise ship season.
Personally I think we need to be cautious about unrestrained growth in cruise ship visitation. I would not like to see the negative cruise related impacts that I have noted at destinations, for example such as the Greek Islands, Chinque Terre, Barcelona and the Isle of Capri experienced here on Kangaroo Island. This will require vigilance and good management at all levels.
Another challenge frankly is the shortage of transport resources available and the fact that the cruise ship season overlaps our peak visitation months when we need extra visitation the least.
Unfortunately the weather and nature of the seasons dictate when cruise ships will visit our southern waters so the current cruise ship visit schedule between November and March is not likely to change.
The shortage of available transport means that many passengers are stuck in Penneshaw and not able to experience what the island has to offer. There is risk that that this may result in passenger disappointment and dissatisfaction.
This is one of the reasons why TKI drove the establishment of the cruise ship markets which by and large have been successful in providing passenger access to local product and produce, friendly locals and a generally welcoming atmosphere. In this regard the volunteers and stall holders do a great job.
Volunteer, market stall holder and perhaps even local business potential fatigue is also an emerging challenge of which we need to be aware.
In this regard, February will be a bit of a testing ground in that there will be 12 cruise ship visiting, six of which arrive in a 7-day time frame.
The Islander: What action is being taken to monitor the impact of cruise ship visitation to the Island?
Pierre: TKI collects visitor and resident feedback via the TOMM surveys but also records any direct feedback obtained.
I have asked Department of Environment and Water to ascertain whether they have experienced any impacts arising from cruise ship visits.
At the completion of the KI 18/19 cruise season, TKI will be conducting an industry and community forum to gather reports of experiences and help further identify impacts and consider measures to manage or mitigate negative impacts.