A new cruise industry model that sustains the quality of the visitor experience, and future-proofs the industry, is being implemented by Tourism Bay of Plenty following an operator-led consultation.
The change comes as the busiest tour port in the country has seen cruise ship activity increase about 600 per cent since the mid-2000s - growth that has placed significant pressure on tourism infrastructure, making a review of the current model and resulting changes necessary.
“Since August 2016 we have met with the cruise industry on 11 occasions and identified the need for a new working model for various compelling reasons,” says Tourism Bay of Plenty CEO Kristin Dunne.
“These include the necessity to offer a seamless visitor experience and minimise confusion. Currently there are very few barriers to enter the sector as an operator and a large number of tours are very similar.”
Other drivers for change include Tourism Bay of Plenty's ability to cover the Tauranga Cruise i-SITE centre's increasing operating costs, increasing health and safety concerns around the transport, parking and traffic flow at Salisbury Wharf, and having inadequate operating areas for a growing number of independent tour operators.
The new model invites independent tour operators in Tauranga to tender for new contracts with Tourism Bay of Plenty to secure on-the-day bookings with cruise ship passengers at the temporary Tauranga Cruise i-SITE facility in Mount Maunganui.
It is also intended that the new model opens doors to collaboration via joint venture, which smaller operators have welcomed during the consultation process.
The new contracts will be awarded to up to 10 independent or joint venture tour operators ahead of the 2017-18 cruise ship season as part of a new two-stage Cruise Shore Excursions sales model.
The Request for Proposal tender process gets underway this week and local tour operators have until mid August to submit an online proposal.
Successful applicants will benefit by having Tourism Bay of Plenty staff and ambassadors promote and book tours for passengers through the Tauranga Cruise i-SITE on their behalf for the next two cruise ship seasons.
By the start of the 2019-20 season, a new i-SITE Visitor Information Centre is expected to be built at Coronation Park where operators will have the option to lease space to promote and sell their own tour experiences.
At this point, Tourism Bay of Plenty will remove itself from the role of selling tours.
“The new model will enhance the quality of visitor experiences and create a more sustainable tourism industry for the Bay of Plenty. It's about future-proofing the industry in line with the demands being placed on it. By contracting high quality tour operators through the RFP process, we can optimise visitor experiences at the Tauranga Cruise i-SITE,” says Ms Dunne.
“We're taking steps to minimise costs where possible and this model enables us to save approximately $85,000 for the 2017-18 season.”
Small owner/operator businesses who wish to work together in a joint venture can apply. Any operator not awarded a contract after the RFP process can continue to independently promote their tours online to capture pre-bookings or work through online travel agencies.
Ms Dunne says the consultation process further highlighted how tour operators wanted more control over their marketing at the Tauranga Cruise i-SITE and how online methods were fast becoming the preferred tour booking method for passengers.
“Tour operators have been telling us for some time that they want the ability to sell and promote themselves to cruise ship passengers. This new model is a step in that direction.
“It's already supported by many operators who see how it will provide more certainty for their own business modelling, reinvestment and plans for growth.”
Ian Holroyd of Shore Trips and Tours supports the new initiative to rationalise tour options offered to cruise passengers at the Port. “This will increase efficiency, reduce customer confusion and support sustainable professional tour service providers.”
Bethlehem Coachlines' Neil Jamieson backs the model, arguing it was time for a re-think due to the high costs of maintaining and running the Tauranga Cruise i-SITE facility.
“We've been operating coaches for cruise passenger excursions since 2003 and have watched the evolution of local operators selling their product from the pier, beside the ships, to the current selling of tours through the Tauranga Cruise i-SITE.
“With more passengers using modern marketing tools such as the internet, once again we see the market changing.”
Mr Jamieson says any model that involves Tauranga Cruise i-SITE staff having to deal with fewer operators and a smaller product inventory was welcomed.
After the tender deadline closes on operator submissions, applications will be reviewed by an independent panel.
Contracts will be awarded to operators on August 24 – about six weeks before the season's first cruise ship, the Golden Princess, arrives in Tauranga on October 10.