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Their Ships Have Come in

Kauai merchants are reaping the benefits of a growing cruise industry.

Richard Jasper loves to welcome people to Kauai. It is a lucky thing that he does because during an eight-hour day, the businessman will greet over 1,000 cruise ship passengers before shuttling them off to his shopping mall, Anchor Cove, a half-mile down the road from Nawiliwili Harbor.

“The first thing that we say to people is ‘Aloha! Welcome to Kauai,’” says Jasper. “We want them to remember our island as being their most friendly port of call.”

What Jasper is also doing is all about business. With each of his mini buses making about 20 round trips a day, Jasper believes that revenues for the various shops and restaurants at his mall can increase as much as 20 to 30 percent during the frantic day of arriving and driving.

And Jasper isn’t the only one who is offering a free ride. On Kauai’s boat days, a caravan of vans, mini buses and tour buses offer transportation to K-Mart, Hilo Hattie, Coconut Grove Shopping Center, as well as tours around the island.

“There is a huge impact from these ships,” says Nalani Brun, tourism specialist for Kauai’s Office of the Mayor. “We don’t have any hard numbers yet but many businesses here build their schedules around ship arrivals, and there is a noticeable increase in the level of activity when they do come to port.”

Last year, American Hawaii Cruise’s S.S. Independence, visited Kauai 56 times throughout the year, while foreign ships of various lines (called “bonus boats” by Jasper), arriving from October through May, visited the Islands 36 times. This year, the Independence is joined by its younger and larger sister ship, the m.s. Patriot, which has a capacity of 1,200 passengers, and will double the amount of visits for the company.

Approximately 40 foreign visits are scheduled for 2001. Later in the year, Norwegian Cruise Lines will start an inter-island service of its own, doubling visits. And by 2004, the United States Lines, parent company of American Hawaii cruises, will send over two brand-new ships to the Islands, both with 1,900 passenger capacities.

Hilo Hattie in downtown Lihue sends two vans, one minibus and one motor coach down to Nawiliwili, which in turn bring back from 300 to 800 customers, on average about half the passengers on any given ship. According to Missy Caminos, former Kauai branch manager for Hilo Hattie, these customers spend approximately $30 per person, about $8 more than their usual walk-in traffic. That means a 30 to 40 percent increase in sales during boat days, requiring managers to almost double their staff to handle the surge, which begins at 7 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m.

“Ship customers spend more than other tourists because they are briefed onboard and in the vehicle on their way over so they know what they want when they walk through our doors,” says Caminos.

For Waialeale Boat Tours, the cruise ships, especially the bonus boat visits during the winter months, have transformed business. In 1998 general manager Troy Waialeale, whose company takes tours up the Wailua River to the Fern Grotto, was down to 22 employees and was on the verge of laying off a few more when foreign ship arrivals increased from 18 to 41 that year and his business went through the roof.

Today, Waialeale gets from 700 to 800 foreign cruise ship customers per arrival. That is in addition to the 200 to 300 customers when an American Hawaii ship visits. Waialeale now employs 40 people and plans on building two more boats to accommodate the increased traffic brought by the Patriot.

“We used to operate at a loss during the last few months of the year,” says Waialeale. “Now, we are moving all year round. There are days when we have two or three ships at once and nobody gets to eat lunch.”

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