A new strategy for operating the RMS St Helena has been given a mixed response by tourism leaders on the island.
A proposed new sailing schedule was welcomed at a meeting with Enterprise St Helena officials, but there was strong criticism of “counter-productive” marketing.
Julian Morris, head of economic development, said he had intervened since joining the board of St Helena Line in early 2012, and that the results of his work were starting to show through.
He told St Helena Online the new schedule meant more sailings to St Helena and increased potential bed nights on the island.
A report by tourism association chairman Vince Thompson bears out complaints by the owners of the island’s two hotels on marketing failings over the past two years.
They said marketing by Andrew Weir Shipping for the RMS St Helena was, in some cases, at odds with the objectives of the island’s own fledgling tourism service sector. The ship should be bringing them more guests, but instead, tourists were being encouraged to spend more time on the ship than staying in accommodation on the island.
Vince said: “At present, public money is being spent to market berths and beds in entirely seperate and often counter productive ways.
“It was pointed out the new RMS brochure heavily promotes a flight from UK to Ascension including a short stay there, ship to St Helena for a two-night stay and then back on the RMS to Cape Town.
“Heavily promoting a two-night stay at St Helena does nothing for accommodation providers. Passengers taking this particular cruise will, in almost every case, stay on board the RMS and just take a ferry to the island for a tour or a stroll along Main Street.”
In fact, said Vince, the new schedule would give only a one-night stop in James Bay because of speeding-up of cargo operations.
Hazel Wilmot has told St Helena Online she would close tourist accommodation at the Consulate Hotel in Jamestown after Christmas because of a massive drop in overnight stays, and Stephen Biggs of Farm Lodge has threatened to do the same.
The July 30 meeting took place after Stephen issued a call to action in the St Helena Independent.
Vince said: “The schedule was looked at from the point of view of maximising the inevitably limited opportunities for giving access to St Helena for tourists who wish to stay for a week, primarily in hotel accommodation but also in self-catering.
“It was generally agreed the schedule is an improvement compared with previous years.
“As the two UK voyages are no longer in the schedule and loading time at Cape Town and St Helena has been reduced, there are extra calls and therefore more opportunities for visitiors to St Helena to set sail in the RMS.
“This is the case despite the short stays at St Helena when the shuttle to Ascension is excluded from the schedule and the diversion to Tristan da Cunha is included.
“There has been and still is a disconnect between marketing the RMS and marketing St Helena as a place to stay for the maximum amount of time offered by the schedule.
“The standard pattern voyage, Cape Town – St Helena – Ascension – St Helena – Cape Town, is the voyage which offers visitors eight nights in St Helena. Packages based on that pattern should be heavily promoted by the RMS and St Helena Tourism in a coherent and synergistic way.
“At present, public money is being spent to market berths and beds in entirely seperate and often counter-productive ways
“Julian said he has started get things moving in the desired direction, but cautioned there was more work to do.”