Cruise ship problems outweighing benefits
It was a stunning Fall day in our little coastal village. The sun was warm,the water sparkling–smiling locals waved to each other, happy to have a well deserved break from the onslaught of tourists. From our swimming hole at Casino Point, we gazed at the horizon and realized what was missing. Our strange feeling of contentment came from an uncommon view of our harbor unblocked by the massive white wall of a cruise ship.
Every year at this time, after a summer season of crowded weekends and the Monday/Tuesday hoards, cruise ship “repositioning” suddenly takes over. New lines visit and new docking days are added, more ships on their way to winter dry dock.
Our two-day weekly cruise ship schedule becomes three, sometimes four days, all magically orchestrated by the Board of the Chamber of Commerce. Fall coincidentally, is also the time of the Great Cruise Ship Conference in Florida, which local Chamber members and politicians perennially attend.
Close on the heels of this forum come the marketing articles in the Islander news, touting added cruise line opportunities and added possibilities for relocation stops. These promotions and letters include selected statistics. We are told 18 percent of cruisers rent golf carts while 60 percent go shopping. Data that does not say how much is actually spent, gained or shoplifted.
There is of course, the seasonal wharfage fees of $600,000, but with the omission of an odd, little-known fact – $200,000 of the City’s profit is returned to Carnival Lines. Avalon, apparently, is the only port that does so! While the great promise of visitor returns is cited, it seems more likely the savvy among them learn not to come back on a Monday or Tuesday. After all—the nix on Monday/Tuesday is a staple observation repeatedly made on social media and in Yelp and Trip Advisor.
What the chamber’s rosy perspective unfailingly misses is the stress of over scheduling and overtourism on infrastructure, the use of city water, trash and sewage.
The chief architect of increasing cruise ship berths doesn’t live here, and would hardly notice the crowded streets and increasing plastic for our already full landfill, the crowded streets and smell of golf cart exhaust, and smoke sputtering from the generators on board ship.
He never hears the common downtown comment: “I like coming out when there is NO cruise ship.”
The ever-increasing cruise industry increasingly has its detractors. Worldwide, destinations are limiting visits or completely closing ports. Molokai, Hawaii refuses visits altogether, as do many Greek and Tahitian islands. Venice has realized the disturbance to their historic venue.
Ibiza, Spain, curtailed cruise schedule through local control; UNESCO closed usage of the port of Dubrovnik unless numbers were managed. The quality of life, the character of towns, islands, and cities is at stake, as is the ecology of our oceans.
Could we not all agree that two days per week of hosting floating cities is more than enough for our town, our harbor and our quality of life?
Cruise ship revenue has helped rebuild Avalon
At last night’s (Monday) meeting of the Avalon City Council, community member Jani Hall read a letter to you she had penned on the subject of cruise ships that call on the port of Avalon. I am writing in response. As a 36-year resident and business owner on the island, I experienced the “off season” when we endeavored to survive without cruise ships.
In those days the majority of stores closed either weekdays or entirely once mainland schools began the school year. Employees were let go, with many leaving the island, seeking another place to live, and working until the following year’s “season” came to life. The employees were not eligible for insurance or retirement plans when working only partial year periods.
Today our community benefits not only from the direct economic impacts of the cruise ship visitors’ spending, but the entire community has the funding to make beach and harbor improvements that benefit us all and are funded through Wharfage fees, sales taxes and admission taxes. Several years ago, we had an average of four ships visiting per week. Today we have two. Year-to-date we are down in number of cruise ship guests over the last year, due to fewer relocations.
Despite that, fees paid by visiting cruise ships are up year-over-year. Contrary to her contention, the Wharfage amount of about $600,000 challenged, was not overstated at the exclusion of a marketing incentive, but was presented as a net figure.
The Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau hosts a monthly meeting of businesses and community members that discuss the impacts and needs of the cruise industry and the visits to Avalon.
Data has been collected and reported including the numbers recently cited by the Chamber President, Jim Luttjohann with regard to economic benefits to the community. Mr. Luttjohann was asked by members of the committee to share the data, as a small group of community leaders were about to travel to the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association Conference. As to the perennial nature of media releases and attendance of the conference, there has been no such effort, with this year’s endeavors being an attempt to engage with the cruise lines in order to gauge our future as a port of call.
Based on research completed in the past few years, Avalon’s infrastructure is not being specifically overburdened by the current volume of cruise ship visitors we host. The tipping points that were found had more to do with peak season demands than the relatively small and absorbable impacts of two calls on average per week plus a half dozen or so season calls per year. Instead, funds are coming into our local economy to help pay for the upgrades to those systems that would be aging out of functionality with or without the cruises ship visitor coming to town.
The City of Avalon and the Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce are embarking on the next phase of measuring resident and business sentiments through a survey on subjects including schools, business climate, quality of life and housing, as well as “Overtourism”, whether a result of cruise visitors or others. Also, at last evening’s council meeting Mr. Luttjohann announced a new Responsible Tourism program of information and activities being fostered by the Chamber and Visitors Bureau under the working title of Care for Catalina. I encourage members of the community, including Jani Hall, to engage in both the Sentiment Survey and join in Care for Catalina program as a valued place to present her points of view on these important subjects.
Catrina Maxin Awalt
Taking the next step in social climate change
At the May 2018 CHOICES task force meeting, business owners and community stakeholders expressed concerns regarding the behavior of Avalon’s local youth and its effects on employee recruitment, retention and visitor experiences. It is clear that the social and economic conditions of Avalon are interdependent on each other.
Providing superior visitor experiences needs to become a shared goal among all Avalon residents, including children, to ensure the long-term success of our town’s tourism-based economy. This promotes a sense of community as all Avalon residents recognize they are truly dependent on one another for our shared future success. So how do we shift our fractured social climate to one that unites the community to ensure each visitor departs ready to write a glowing review and book their next visit?
Education is the best place to start, and using behavioral science is one way to bring awareness to all residents for the need to respect and appreciate each other and our visitors. The science and data that support this field of work make implementing interventions for behavior improvement a secure investment. Decades of research have produced the resulting scientific foundations of Applied Behavior Analysis or behavioral science.
You may have read in the Islander newspaper or seen references to Actively Caring for People in the Chamber’s weekly email or on Facebook.
The founder of this educational and action-oriented community building process, Virginia Tech’s distinguished alumni professor E. Scott Geller Ph.D., recently visited Avalon to kick-off this grass-roots effort. We are currently seeking funding to recreate the successful study that helped reduce bullying in elementary classrooms by over 50 percent in 6 weeks.
By first improving the social climate for students we can build the foundations needed to enhance our entire community. If each business will contribute to this process in increments over time, we can then share these learning principles with the adults of our community who can sustain this critical shift in attitude and behavior for our long-term economic and social success.
Please make an initial tax-deductible contribution of $75 or more to fund this essential community improvement effort and receive a complimentary copy of 50 Lessons to Enhance Your Life, proven principles from psychological science by Professor Geller.
Avalon AC4P Change Agent