DeSilva tackles secret shopper questions
Two cruise lines have pledged to change practices that have hurt Bermuda businesses, the tourism minister said yesterday.
Zane DeSilva said that a ministry representative had heard “disparaging” remarks about public transport and the high cost of taxis while she was on a fact-finding mission in July.
Mr DeSilva said the exercise had also revealed that photographs not of Bermuda were used to depict the island.
He told a press conference that the Ministry of Tourism and Transport had held talks with Royal Caribbean International and Norwegian Cruise Line last month.
Mr DeSilva said: “Our cruise partners were alarmed by our findings and apologised and have since taken positive steps to eradicate these practices.”
The minister said that the meetings came after two cruises taken by ministry representatives last summer, including one from himself on the Anthem of the Seas in August.
He explained that the cruises were taken to investigate allegations that the cruise lines “unfairly influence passenger spending when the vessel is in port through foreign third-party promotional companies”.
He added: “These companies who facilitate on-board port and shopping lectures are alleged to favour only shops that advertise in their port shopping guide to the detriment of other Bermudian retailers.”
A public access to information request this week revealed extra details on costs associated with Mr DeSilva’s $3,900 trip.
A breakdown of the total trip bill on the Government Travel Calendar website showed that air travel had cost $595.30, while ground transportation costs totalled $292.84. Accommodation was $3,000.27.
The Pati request showed that Mr DeSilva had flown on a JetBlue return flight to John F Kennedy International Airport, New York, and travelled to the New Jersey port on the day the five-day cruise departed.
He returned to New Jersey on the vessel and flew back to Bermuda the day he disembarked.
The nearly $300 spent on ground transportation was in the United States alone.
The $3,000 spent on accommodation was spent entirely on lodging on the cruise where Mr DeSilva stayed in a balcony cabin “which was the only category available”.
Mr DeSilva was accompanied on the trip by Stacey Evans, a technical officer with the ministry.
The minister told the press conference yesterday that Ms Evans had highlighted a number of concerns after her trip aboard the Norwegian Escape a month earlier.
He said that she had also pointed out “the great emphasis given to sending passengers to just a few shops and restaurants featured on the port shopping map to the wholesale exclusion of other fine establishments who did not advertise”.
He said about his trip: “One thing that stood out was the push for passengers to bring their receipts for purchases made on island at the ship’s recommended stores back to the ship in order to get an additional 30-day ship guarantee.
“This guarantee was not available for merchandise bought in any other establishment on the basis that they could not guarantee the quality of products if they were not purchased at the recommended stores.”
He added that he had witnessed the “detrimental effect” on Bermuda businesses who did not advertise with the cruise line.
Mr DeSilva said that the fact-finding cruises had given the ministry “a much better idea of how local businesses are impacted by the lack of passenger foot traffic, especially in Hamilton, this despite the significant increase in cruise visitors”.
He told the media that 545,000 cruise ship passengers had been forecast to arrive in Bermuda in 2019 — up 53 per cent since 2014.
Mr DeSilva said that many retail shops who did not advertise with the cruise lines “generally feel the loss of the cruise ship business that they once enjoyed”.
He added: “Many shops have closed, or closed a satellite store location, or downsized their business, particularly in Hamilton.”
Mr DeSilva said that “more than” 200 jobs had been lost in the island’s retail sector in the last two years “as a result of enforced redundancies or early retirements”.
Mr DeSilva said that the ministry would be meeting with both Royal Caribbean and Norwegian next month for an update.
He said that he hoped to see a greater emphasis placed on promoting a wider range of Bermuda retailers.
Mr DeSilva added: “They are hiring our Bermudian people. If they lose business, they have to downsize, they have to make folks redundant, or maybe shut down shops.
“We can’t have that.”
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