New associate member: De Buck Travel
This year the company is handling a total of 328 calls compared to 298 last year. The company operates shore excursions in Zeebrugge, Oostende, Ghent and Antwerp in Belgium but also in ports in The Netherlands and Northern France. Clients include companies ranging from AIDA Cruises to Azamara Club Cruises, Celebrity Cruises to Cunard Line, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises to Ponant and Noble Caledonia to Windstar Cruises.
Director Gert Dewulf commented on De Buck’s ethos: “The main key of a successful shore excursion is the ‘experience’ by the guest. Each guest is different so we have to offer different experiences to the cruise guests coming to our ports. Our clients are the cruiselines. They know exactly who their guests are and what their expectations are. For that reason, creating unique, authentic, cost-efficient shore excursions is always a close collaboration between our staff, who know the destination in depth, and our contact at the cruiseline.”
In addition he says: “A perfect organisation is essential in the success of shore excursions.”
The company has a very large pool of guides with an official licence which has been built up over the past 30 years. During the off-season (February) training sessions are organised for all the guides it works with. The topics in these training sessions range from how to guide for cruise guests to safety & security and sustainability.
In Belgium the most popular excursions include canal boat tours and Belgian chocolates, for example Bruges and canals and Ghent and the art of making chocolates. Depending on the nationality, Brussels tours and Ypres & In Flanders Fields tours are popular.
Dewulf commented on the rapidly changing industry in terms of ships, guests and shore excursions: “There is more variety. On the one hand we see ships getting bigger and bigger, which usually have younger guests onboard. There is also a trend towards more smaller, deluxe and expedition ships. They have a completely different clientele with other expectations. We also see more theme cruises etc. Our goal is to develop and organise tailor-made shore excursions for each cruiseline and even cruise individually.”
When it comes to the rise in independent bookings, Dewulf says that it is not yet effecting the business. However he commented: “We have to determine the exact motivations as to why the new generation of cruisers book independently. In collaboration with our cruiselines, we have to create new tailor-made shore excursions that appeal to those independent guests. To attract the independent traveller, we have to think out of the box and create new kinds of excursions. At the end, this will not result in a change of excursions, but in a greater variety of excursions in each port. This could also avoid too many tour buses to the same crowded tourist places.”
Like many, the enormous increase of (day) tourists to cities, such as Bruges, Ghent and Amsterdam, over the last few years has changed the opinion of many inhabitants and local politicians which is causing challenges.
Dewulf explained: “In the last years we have been facing a lot of changes in rules and price increases by local governments. Many of those changes are set within a time lapse of only a couple of months, while our shore excursions are sold more than one year in advance.
“We strongly believe in sustainability as we have to protect our destinations for the future of all of us. In this way, we were the first shore excursions operator in 2016 being Travelife certified. Sustainability is only possible if all the stakeholders work together. Cruiselines, shore excursions operators, ports, local governments, coach companies, guides etc have to work together.
“I believe that we, as shore excursions operator, have an important role to play as liaison between all those parties to find solutions for the best of all parties. The fast growth of the size of cruiseships in combination with the fast growth of tourists to our region has also an impact on coaches, guides and tourist attractions. The number of available coaches, guides etc is growing slower than the demand and is putting pressure on availability and costs.”