The Plucked Goose
It is unconscionable that Portland is investing so much into hosting the cruise ship industry without doing a comprehensive market research study [“Chump Change,” June 2008]. However, undertaking such a study would be difficult, as that industry is highly secretive, they know how to manipulate data, and they would never provide open access to their customer lists. So, how do we know if we are merely looking at a big, fat goose that has already been well plucked?
Why not just go with our instincts? Thirty-plus very large ships dock in Portland each year and these ships are laden with thousands of well-heeled passengers who have already paid for comfort, entertainment, and endless food. We can assume the cruise ship lines, being foremost among the world’s marketers, have already milked their customers in every way possible. However, if we can just get these naïve beings off the ships, we can have a go at whatever money they might have left. Great plan! Should work!
Cruise ship lines offer two off-ship options on their destination cruises. These are to gawk and to shop. Satisfying the gawking is difficult in this Disneyland era when people expect the spectacular. This need can be met while cruising the Alaskan coast with its crumpling glaciers, however, it is not as easy where nature’s assets are more benign. We have observed those cruise ship visitors in Bar Harbor where, for a hefty fee, they are loaded onto school buses and driven through Acadia National Park. Except for the magnificent view atop Cadillac Mountain, they are frequently disappointed. We have oft heard the grumbling remark, “There is nothing here but trees, rocks, and water!” And quaintness — red-bricked sidewalks and such — only goes so far.
We here in Portland do offer opportunities to shop. On the ships, these ventures are promoted as excursions to some of America’s greatest outlet malls. Unfortunately, these malls are not located in Portland, but in Freeport, Kennebunk, and North Conway, New Hampshire.
It requires either cruise-director cheekiness or a proliferation of numbskull consumers to sell people on the idea of paying a hefty fee to interrupt an expensive, comfortable cruise and ride on a bus to a far distant mall to save a few bucks.
If customers get taken in by this ploy on their first cruise, will they do so on subsequent outings? We expect not. And how many passengers actually leave the ship to participate in these adventures? Our limited experience has shown that a great many people do not disembark while in port. So, if we take that magical figure of $103.68 said to be spent by the average cruise ship visitor, do we multiply that by the customers who actually disembarked, or do we multiply it by all 3,000 souls on the cruise to get our total?
And, let’s see, if a cruise ship with 3,000 people docked in Portland and 90 percent (as stated) go on a shopping excursion — say, 45 to a bus — that would be 60 buses, right? Hmmmm, no, no, no — there is an energy crisis! We better hand this over to the experts to check out and calculate. We can be certain these worthies will want reliable figures so they can make good judgments. And let’s hope they keep in mind that these cruise ship lines need us much more than we need them, and that we should charge them accordingly.
For the faithful there will always be hope we can get a few more feathers off an already well-plucked goose.
— Duane Pierson, Portland