Four Seasons and more than 3,000 Tourists in One Day
By Sharon Jaffray
The last cruise ship of the season visited Stanley on the weekend. Accepting an offer earlier this year from Sulivan Shipping Services to join them for the day I found myself in the midst of a whirl of activity on what was one of the busiest cruise ship days of the entire season.
Last year more than 36,000 tourists visited the Islands. This season on one day, January 25, the Falklands population was more than doubled as the passengers from two large cruise ships descended on Stanley.
There was anticipation in the air, as the Sulivan Shipping employees prepared for what was their busiest day to date with more than 1,000 shore excursions pre-booked by tourists from Infinity and Norwegian Crown. Soon after 9am anticipation is being replaced with impatience as tenders from Infinity are nowhere in sight and the first Bluff Cove and Battlefield tours are due to depart at 9.15am.
Tourism Development Manager Debs Summers has worked for three years to build up a close relationship with cruise operators and would not normally be faxed by the late arrival of passengers for excursions. However, on this day she has to deal with excursions for both vessels and if the first tour doesn't get away on time it will have to be cancelled so that the rest of the tours can run on schedule. A large number of disgruntled tourists at the beginning of what is almost certainly going to be a long day is not an ideal scenario.
Falkland Islands Tours and Travel Manager, Andy Williams has all his coaches lined up along with minibuses but there is a tight schedule and his instinct is to cancel the first Bluff Cove tour so the rest of the day will run smoothly. In true Debs fashion, she manages to cajole and plead with Andy until, with seconds to spare the Infinity tender with Bluff Cove passengers arrives at the pontoon.
What follows can only be described as organised chaos as Debs and her Sulivan Shipping colleagues Amanda Forster and Leif Pollard, with tentative shooing actions from myself, herd the excursionists to their relevant buses, count tickets and breath a sigh of relief as the doors shut and they pull out of the Jetty Centre car park at a sedate pace - despite Debs' windmill like arm signals which, if heeded by the drivers, would have resulted in the coaches leaving with tyres squealing!
Meanwhile, the Gypsy Cove tour is proving more popular than the taxis and mini buses can cope with. As the rain sets in, a determined group of tourists turn their backs to the elements and huddle together, just like the penguins they are so keen to observe.
Sulivan Shipping are also busy in the outer harbour running tours to Sparrow Cove direct from the ships. Nikki Luxton is the guide on board and only her skills at organising the volume of passengers and the efficient working of the schedule allows the maximum amount of excursions to operate on this day. The launch crews from both the Falkland Islands Company Limited and Sulivan work together to provide a seamless operation which gives passengers the opportunity of viewing Gentoo and King penguins as well as wonderful views of Stanley with the ships in the foreground.
Walking tours of Stanley are available with interesting local guides, and also with independent audio walking tours - a clever little gadget introduced to the Falklands by Bruce Wilks and operated in conjunction with Sulivan Shipping. This enables the tourist to walk the town alone and listen to recorded information about each point of interest.
I sit and chat with an elderly American lady who is highly excited about her forthcoming journey to Bluff Cove. I explain to her that part of the excursion involves a cross country journey in a 4x4 vehicle that could possibly become bogged down in the soft terrain that has to be crossed to reach the picturesque Bluff Cove Lagoon. She calls her equally elderly partner over and enthuses about the possible adventure ahead of them. I can't help but admire their enthusiasm for something which to most Islanders is a simple fact of life and I begin to understand the potential tourist attraction in so many of the everyday events in the Falklands that we tend to take for granted.
As the day progresses, the jetty security people check passengers back on board the tenders. Nobody seems to mind the bag searching or the good natured body scanning - in fact some of the passengers have a good laugh and want to go through the process or volunteer their friends. It's an understandable attitude, as it is all for their own safety.
The Jetty Centre is a positive hive of activity and most of the visitors take advantage of the free visitors guide to the Falklands which is produced by Penguin News for the Tourist Board. They're seasoned travellers these guys - they take the time to sit down, have a read and plan their day's activities. I tend to tear around like a headless chicken in a new place, picking up bits of literature here and there and then spend the evening devastated having finally taken the time to read the leaflets and discovered what I could have done!
The weather makes a dramatic turn for the better right on lunch time; the Jetty Centre empties out and Ross Road becomes even more congested with pedestrians. There are a few angry blasts of the horn from drivers trying to force their way home through the tourists, some of whom blithely step out into the road to take photos or merely seem to find the pavements too restricting. I can't help but wonder at their trust in Stanley's drivers and hope that they don't intend to visit Santiago with the same mind set or naivety.
At about 4pm, after being issued with a jetty pass, I join Debs and the Shore Excursion Manager of the Norwegian Crown on one of the Sulivan launches to visit the shop so that the day's finances can be finalised. Overall, Debs thinks the day has been a great success, despite the small town of Stanley having to cope with a doubled population.
She says that excursions like the relatively new experiences of visiting Long Island Farm, or Bluff Cove; the Falklands Birding Tours (with Falklands Conservation) and Sparrow Cove demonstrate the way private sector companies in the Falklands have moved forward with the demands of the cruise lines, "… providing more and more different, high quality experiences to as many visitors as they can."
Sharon Jaffray is Deputy Editor of the Penguin News, and for many years was a farmer on West Falkland
This article was first published in the Penguin News on 22 April 2005 and is reproduced by kind permission of the Editor
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