Melanie Colpitts says it’s the small things like a welcoming smile that may brighten a tourist’s day.
The director of Aquila Tours out of Saint John, N.B. said upwards of 40 per cent to as much as half of passengers on a visiting cruise ship will take the time to wander their port-of-call rather than book an excursion.
Atlantic Canadian cruise destinations like Sydney need to find ways to engage the guest when they arrive at a shop, restaurant or tourism operation, she said following a panel discussion at the Cruise Canada New England Symposium in Membertou on Wednesday.
“How can you create a ‘wow’ moment for your guests that they are going to be talking about, sharing on social media and spreading the word about the great time that they had here,” Colpitts said.
Shops with outdoor signage welcoming cruise passengers can attract attention, as well as having maps at the port to outline easily accessible sights and attractions in the local vicinity, she said.
Sydney Downtown Development Association has taken steps in recent years to up its tourism game by displaying floral arrangements at participating businesses and having musicians perform at outdoor sites on days when a cruise ship is in port.
The Port of Sydney Development Corp. has also increased the number of local vendors selling crafts, food and other items at the port. A bike rental business also operates portside giving cruise passengers a different way to tour Sydney.
Christina Lamey, the port’s manager of cruise marketing and development, said because the industry is growing at a steady rate there’s a “process of continuous improvement” at the port of Sydney.
“Coming together like this as this group does, you get into a situation where you’re always talking about what’s next and what you need to be doing next and thinking ahead to the future,” Lamey said.
One of the improvements discussed at the symposium several years ago was the construction of a second cruise ship berth to accommodate larger vessels at the port of Sydney.
Construction on the $20-million project is now slated to be completed by the end of the year. The expansion of the main dock to play host to even larger vessels will also benefit the port with fewer ships having to anchor in Sydney harbour.
The largest ships to arrive this year will be 316 metres in length. That includes the MSC Meraviglia, a 170,000-gross tonnage cruise ship that has a capacity of 4,500 passengers and 1,400 crew members. It will visit Sydney twice in October.
Cruise lines are also pushing for more experiential tourism where passengers meet and speak with locals on excursions.
Lamey said Cape Breton gets high marks for its ability to immerse tourists into visits at the Cape Breton Miners’ Museum in Glace Bay, the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site, as well as the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site in Baddeck and Goat Island tours in Eskasoni First Nation.
“(Cruise lines) want their passengers to interact with local people where they experience life the way they do.”
There appears to be no slowdown in cruise ship numbers for several years to come with cruise ships booking time in port two to three years in advance.
While she wasn’t prepared to release the number of visits booked so far for the 2020 season, Lamey said there will be “lots of multi-ship days” in September and October – the peak season for the Atlantic Canada cruise industry.
“We’re trying to encourage more summer cruising here because July and August are beautiful. We rarely have a cancelled call because of weather but the ships tend to be on the Alaska circuit at that time … so we’re trying to get them on the other coast.”
More than 150 delegates from Montreal, New York City, New England and Atlantic Canada cruise destinations are attending this year’s symposium at the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre.
The three-day conference wraps up at noontime today.