Trade Calls for Closer Caribbean Ties

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NASSAU, Bahamas -- Travel agents attending a Caribbean cruise conference here sponsored by 13 cruise lines called on tourism companies in individual Caribbean destinations to work more closely with travel agencies.

Kathy Pelaez, vice president of sales for Liberty Travel, said closer marketing ties between agencies and destinations would help expand Caribbean tourism.

Andrew Schrameck of Clearwater Cruises, Clearwater, Fla., said that Caribbean tourist boards should consider cooperative advertising programs even with midsize agencies.

The agents provided a retail point of view at the Fourth Caribbean Cruise Conference, sponsored by the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association. The annual conference, which this year attracted 500 delegates, was created by the cruise industry to increase business opportunities with its Caribbean partners.

Pelaez said that collaboration between travel agencies and destinations could help improve the shore experiences of passengers, particularly those who do not go on ship-marketed shore excursions. "There are a lot of people, including experienced travelers, who don't want to go on a tour," she said. "And when they get off the ship they're looking for something else to be offered to them."

The agent called on destination tourism boards to provide agencies with more informational materials to give to such clients before they depart on their cruises. In addition, Pelaez urged more tourism boards to set up informational offices or kiosks at dockside to provide passengers with walking tour maps and directories of local merchants.

Pelaez emphasized that agencies should begin briefing passengers on destinations before they arrive at the ship. "It helps them plan what they will be doing during their stay," she said. "Agents tend to focus strictly on the ship, but we should educate them a little more on the islands." By stimulating interest in ports of call, she added, agents could help build the market for cruises.

Besides working with tourist boards, agencies also should consider dealing with port merchants on special offers to passengers, Pelaez said. For example, an agency might consider stuffing discount coupons into the envelopes containing passenger cruise documents.

Schrameck said that port merchants as well as tourist boards should consider participating in agency cooperative marketing programs. Although many cruise lines participate in his agency's cruise night programs, no destinations do, he said, adding that agencies also could work with port merchants on joint promotions.

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