by Dominique Lescott
St. Kitts Nevis (WINN): Local Tour operator Annie Fontaine Christopher alleges that cruise lines are preventing guests from booking excursions with local operators.
Fontaine made her plea in a widely circulated video claiming cruise lines are discouraging passengers from booking tours with independent operators.
Christopher says, “We’re approved by the Tourism Authority, yet the cruise line is telling the guests not to book with the independent operators”. Christopher says the reasons the passengers are being given is that “if they book with us, they will be robbed, they would be left, and would not be safe”.
Christopher pleads to cruise lines, “why are you guys taking money out of people’s children’s mouths, just because you guys want to have all the bookings. What the guests are saying is, Celebrity cruises, and I don’t care who wants to sue me. Is telling their guests not to book with independent operators like me”.
Christoper, a long serving tour operator with over three decades in the industry, is travel approved by St. Kitts Tourism Authority and fully vaccinated with $2 million insurance for her business – Annie’s Caribbean Tours.
Racquel Brown, CEO of St. Kitts Tourism Authority was a guest on WINN FM’s Island Tea morning show on Thursday November 25, 2021. Brown took the opportunity to explain the scope of the Tourism Authority’s engagement with Shore Ex, highlight the opportunities Shore Ex presents for local tour operators and urge those tour operators on the fringes of the cruise line vendor list to expand and improve their offerings.
On the Shore Ex selection process Brown said: “Shore Ex is specifically for the cruise lines that sell their tours. Tour operators make a request and they give their offering and say what they have to offer. They [tour operators] do have to have minimum liability insurance and if I can remember it normally starts at $100 million US dollars. It’s not cheap.”
On the Shore Ex tour criteria: “They [Shore Ex] come and they inspect your tour and negotiate the price with you. They do their own research, to see if the tour is really what it says it is. I’ve had situations where they’ve even come on island and they’ve made an appointment (pre-COVID) where they come, they fly in and they do inspections with the tour operator. They sometimes ask the Tourism Authority ‘what about this specific tour operator, are they licensed, are they regulated?’ You have to be dynamic, everyone’s offering tours. The more you can make your tour dynamic for a cruise line to sell. There are standards and you have to meet their requirements. Everyone does have to be vaccinated now, I know insurance is a part of it and there are other requirements.”
On increasing a tour operator’s chances of selection: “most cruise lines have a Shore Ex department or a travel department and you can reach out to them, there’s normally something on their website.”It is a very competitive space”, Brown said. The CEO also advised tour operators to participate in April’s cruise sea trade show but said “it’s very intimidating because it has everybody there.”
On the Tourism Authority’s role in the selection of tour operators: “We don’t get involved in that part of the business as much as we do in the deployment of vessels and making sure that when they come here everything is operational.”
The WINN news team also spoke with Scenic Railways Tour Manager, Denise Walters, the tour operator has been a member of Shore Ex since they began operating 19 years ago. Walters confirmed that a tour operator negotiates a net rate with the cruise lines and then Shore Ex adds their own fees, which the tour operator does not dictate. Walters also advised that in order to gain membership, tour operators attend the trade shows and speak with head offices for cruise lines and set up meetings to present your proposal.
Walters said even before COVID-19, cruise passengers cannot book directly with Scenic Railways if that cruiseline is a Shore Ex member. She said “No one can book our tours directly if you’re on the cruise because you [Scenic Railways] can lose the contract on the ship”. Walters said that being a member of Shore Ex is “the best thing to do”, the volume of passengers is higher and “once you’re with one cruise line, you can get in with another”. She added, “it’s better to pay your money”.
WINN received another unconfirmed video where passengers from the Marella Discovery cruise line where Christian Rameshwar, of Tangerine Tours filmed live at Black Rocks confirmed with passengers that “you cannot book anything unless you book through the ship?”. In the video, a passenger seated on a tour bus said “if you book the trip with the ship , you can go off the ship, but if you don’t book a trip, you can’t get off the ship. You can only go to the port, that’s it”. Rameshwar asked the passengers if they think it’s fair and one replied, “it’s not fair for you and the town and we can’t spend our money in the town, you should complain about that”.
Elsewhere in the region, the Barbados Small Taxi Association were expected to be given the opportunity to take on the bubble tours, the persons on the vessels. This was not the case and Maritime Affairs and Blue Economy Kirk Humphrey received a letter that said “only tours booked onboard the ship, which would have been with the larger operators would be allowed to disembark”. Humphrey added that this meant “persons who would normally book a taxi, would not be able to do so”.
Humphrey said, “We spoke to the line and said this is not going to happen. Referring to conversations the ministry had had over the summer, Humphrey said, “This is unjust and this is not what we agreed”.
Watch the video below of local tour operator: