Prince Rupert’s Cruise Ship Task Force showed up en masse Monday evening to give City Council a mid-season update.
Seven representatives from the group took turns outlining initiatives that have been taken in the community to try and revitalize the onshore experience for individual passengers not booked for any excursions or tours.
Much was initiated after Norwegian Cruise Lines confirmed it would not be returning to Prince Rupert as a port of call in 2012. That news came just before Christmas and the task force met in early January.
According to Prince Rupert Port Authority President of Marketing and Business Development Andrew Hamilton, 26 action items were identified by the task force as critical for cruise in Prince Rupert. Of those, 24 have already been implemented.
They’ve included developing way finding signage, telling the story of Prince Rupert involving more of the community’s citizens, a scavenger-hunt stamping program, and increasing market awareness on the vessel.
“The first of our successes was a cruise visitor guide. It’s a way to tell the story of Prince Rupert. It’s a 20-page guide that is distributed to the cruise passengers before they arrive in Prince Rupert to give them an insight into the community,” Hamilton said.
Phil Westoby, Cruise Development Coordinator for the PRPA, said being able to deploy a guide on board is unprecedented in the Alaska cruise theatre.
“Normally such guides are dependent upon a large amount of advertising content, but the creation of a design with which we were able to collaborate with the cruise line allowed us to bring it on board. Normally that would be prohibited,” Westoby said.
Westoby also told council some tour providers have seen an increase in sales from 20 to 100 percent, especially tours offering soft adventure and wildlife viewing.
Treena Decker from Community Futures of the Pacific Northwest described changes that have been made to the Ambassador program.
“It was decided to move it to more of a volunteer organization rather than one being held by one organization in the community. So far we’ve been able to start that process. It’s in transition, with more volunteers coming on board all the time,” Decker said.
In addition to ambassadors, the program has added interpreters, people who have a little more knowledge of certain industries or sectors of the Prince Rupert to tell their story and engage the passengers in their experience.
“We have people that were involved with the fishing industry or heritage. Part of the problem has been finding people that can volunteer their time to come out on a regular basis,” Decker said.
Along with Rudy Kelly, Decker has organized a street performer busker program that has attracted 25 performers.
“We have everyone from violinists to trombone trios to woodwind quartets to Colleen at Pillsbury House who does an excellent Edith Piaf. I do a living statue down at the waterfront. Locals are also coming down and engaging with the performers, which is something we didn’t anticipate,” Decker said.
Michael Gurney, PRPA’s new manager of corporate communications, told council his task has been to oversee social media and new media’s role in the overall strategy.
“To enable this we’ve been providing free wifi connection for cruise ship passengers on Thursday evenings to allow them to connect to their social networks and get their stories out,” said Gurney.
In addition, he has enlisted the help of a dozen local high school students who are using their social networks to engage with passengers to solicit video testimonies.
“This has been a tremendous success. The enthusiasm of these students cannot be understated and their knowledge of the technology is without parallel. They are an inspiration, I believe, to the rest of the volunteers,” Gurney said.
Stories of Prince Rupert are popping up on Facebook, foursquare, Youtube, and other social media networking sites and last week the students initiated a walking tour which is student led and student researched.
“Through that they can also document guest reactions to the city and their experience on shore and share some of their particular knowledge about their hometown,” Gurney explained.
In addition, exit surveys are done each week that will be filed into a report at the end of the season.
Aside from volunteer initiatives, businesses in Cow Bay and the downtown have teamed up with the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Prince Rupert to put together a coupon book focusing on Canadian made products.
“These are handed out to the passengers when they disembark,” said John Farrell, Manager of Community Futures.
According to Farrell the goal at the beginning was to try to drive the cruise passengers through Cow Bay, up Third Avenue, down Second to the waterfront.
“I think on that point alone we got full marks and part of that experience is due to the buskers program, the ambassadors and the stamping program, which I don’t think any of us realized would be so successful. Not only with the kids and adults that are on the cruise ship, but with the merchants. A day doesn’t go by without a merchant saying how do I get involved with that stamping program?” Farrell said, adding it brings people into stores, but it also helps tell the story of Prince Rupert.
Councillor Joy Thorkelson asked how the success of 2011 can be translated to try and attracting cruise lines to Prince Rupert.
“It’s an opportunity for us to be able to market what we’ve done in 2011 for passenger experience in Prince Rupert. We’re in a critical window now because we’ll meet with cruise lines between September and March to put together a solid product for the future,” Hamilton said.