There will be more than 250 cruise liners in port this season as well as coach loads of Costa tourists so our hotels are doing just fine, with business booming and traders being on a high… That thought rushed through my brain one busy morning last month when there were two very large cruise ships in port with just under 6,000 passengers on board – all of whom seemed to be in town at the same time – hundreds of coach and other visitors and hordes of locals, who also take advantage of the good weather out and about for a coffee and a bit of shopping: Main Street was heaving!
I put the above to the test and popped into different businesses in our main shopping quarter which included one or two side streets. The information garnered was mixed with some traders saying they do better in summer whilst others maintained the Christmas period is when the cash registers are noisier. However, our local garbage collectors say they’ve never seen such accumulations of cardboard boxes and other trash as in recent times. Add to that the amount of delivery vans blocking Main Street in the mornings (which have now been given new times to deliver goods because of the thousands of pedestrians wanting to get around also) and you would rightly assume business must be booming, a perfect setting for a good, head scratching session!
Well, as mentioned, there was a variety of replies to my enquiries. One ‘home’ trader said, “Cruise liner passengers tend to buy pillows because they’re not comfortable with the ones provided on board and locals are buying duvets during these summer months to replace blankets.” Another said, summer sales were definitely better especially if Gib is the last port of call because that’s when they’re looking for £5 presents to give as gifts when they get back! Taxi drivers always have a point or two to highlight and told me, “Of course summer is better and the taxi trade does quite well, but pre-booked tours on board the cruise ships don’t help. There should be more of a level playing field.” One other taxi driver said they’ve moved the centre of town taxi stand so they’re now out of site making vying for trade more complicated. Another trader said that government’s relaxed terms on import duty and other costs have helped and was happy with business during these months with tourists and locals alike. A popular local restaurant manager told me that during these months with summer holidays and summer hours, the local trade is unpredictable and cruise liner passengers get their food on board but there were busy periods for snacks and drinks. “Cigarettes and alcohol sales are competitive and now we hear there’s a duty free outlet at the cruise terminal so that doesn’t help especially when we take on students at the shop during summer,” a concerned, Main Street retailer told me – I later heard it rumoured the cruise terminal outlet would soon close down!
Clearly, my trip through town was proving to be a mixed bag of opinions despite the fact that footfall during summer is so much busier than during the cooler time of the year, so how could that be…?
“You see hundreds and thousands of people around town but how many of them are carrying goods? Most of them are entering shops and coming out empty handed. Some say there’s not enough variety, there are too many perfume, watch and electronic shops and not much else,” a smart shop owner revealed. “On Sundays and bank holidays commerce is closed too, so that doesn’t help much when cruise liners are in port. I understand it’s a chicken and egg situation but that’s what visitors complain about.” I have to say I experienced that in Mallorca of all popular places for cruise calls. It was a Sunday and shops were closed!
The change to flexi-hours for civil servants is also the cause for less sales as is the early departure of cruise ships making the afternoons very quiet (although some are now staying longer). Add the fact locals are off to the beach and Main Street can become a ghost town, especially after five o’clock. My ‘posh shop’ owner/manager stressed her best sales were during the run up to Christmas and as far as cruise visitors were concerned, those cruising when there are less children on board in September and October, those also have more spending power.
A jewellery shop manager was very happy with her sales to the point staff were not allowed to take leave in July or August…The Coach Terminus now located at the, still-being-built-mid-town-development was another welcoming move another contented businessman claimed. Irish Town is the second busiest street and I was told more tourists seemed to be venturing down that way surprised to find more shops, assuming Main Street was the only shopping area available… “There’s been some leafleting recently about Irish Town’s history which must’ve helped and my sales are very seasonal selling beach items during summer and Christmas goods during the run up to the big event but sometimes you can’t predict how good or otherwise summer is going to be, there’s too much going on, confidence is down with all this Brexit business and so on.”
Up by another side street, the boss man in one shop brought up the question of bank holidays again telling me, “Having eight or nine bank holidays every year means I’m losing out on potential sales and still have to pay my staff and we seem to keep on adding to that list of ‘off days,’ it’s ridiculous. Added to that, people have been away, spending their cash abroad and returning with no spending power!” A leading alcohol and cigarette importer said it’s been fine bearing in mind the present pound/euro scenario not helping very much.
But veteran Main Street trader of more than 50 years, David Bentata summed it up by telling me things are just not the same anymore… “Apart from all that you’ve been told about too much of the same on the Main Street, cruises have become cheaper attracting passengers with less to spend and many of them are internet savvy, coming into the shop enquiring about this and that, going out again and comparing prices on the internet – which has become our modern day arch-rival and competitor – then go back home and end up buying on-line… No, things are not the same anymore, quality tourists are down and the wonderful years are gone for good!”
My verdict at the end of my mini survey has to be, great for some, not so for others. Who would have thought, with Main Street bursting at the seams taking so much longer to get from one end to the other! To conclude, I’m told we need to keep competitive, be aware of customers becoming increasingly knowledgeable with the use of the internet, and that relationships with local customers are vital. So, we’ll go for the happy medium and perhaps say that, ‘all that glitters isn’t gold!’