August 04, 2006 Features & Images » Feature Story

Capturing a market 

Lisa Richardson writes a love letter home to Whistler from aboard a bilge-spewing, baby-boomer cleaving Alaska cruise ship.

Not exactly in her element, Whistler local Lisa Richardson toughs out a week-long Alaskan cruise to celebrate her mom's 60th. Photo by Lisa Richardson
  • Not exactly in her element, Whistler local Lisa Richardson toughs out a week-long
    Alaskan cruise to celebrate her mom's 60th. Photo by Lisa Richardson

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Added Director of Communications Michele Comeau Thompson, "Tourism Whistler has been working on the cruise segment for a number of years. The train has been an excellent complement to help build the pre- and post-cruise offering for Whistler. Cruises and trains are a natural fit."

Personally, my vote goes with the train.

Aboard the cruise ship, I wasn’t exactly in my element. Personal politics were packed away and left stashed under the bed in Pemberton for a week. For the purposes of happy families, I elected to ignore that cruise ships disgorge over 200,000 gallons of sewage and over 2 million gallons of greywater each week, not to mention hazardous waste or oily bilge water, into unregulated Canadian waters. Meanwhile Alaska, Washington and California enforce strict environmental regulations, threatening as one industry consultant said to make B.C. the toilet bowl of the cruise industry. Or that only the officers on board came from first world countries, with the crew from countries like Honduras, Haiti, the Philippines, Serbia and Romania filling 10-month, seven-days-a-week contracts. As most cruise ships are foreign-flagged and registered in Panama or the Bahamas, they dodge Canadian and U.S. labour law protections, earning them the name "sweatships" from industry activists.

But not everything has to be about politics, I decided. High-horses can be dismounted from. Mothers only turn 60 once, and if they want to fly across the world to take a cruise to Alaska, then a person can suck it up for one week, be grateful for the opportunity, and enjoy the ride.

Problem is, after working in Whistler for a decade, a person’s standards have become quite high.

Cruise tourism is weighted heavily with baby boomers – the average passenger age is 56 years; household incomes average $95,000; soft adventure, wildlife-spotting and scenic vistas top the agenda. Most passengers are traveling in two-person parties, celebrating anniversaries with spouses, or seeing the world with other family members or friends.

This is a demographic that considers travel a necessity, not a luxury. But they want the logistics to be quick, easy and convenient. They’re chronically time-pressed, and demand immediate gratification. They want choices, interactivity and sight-doing, as opposed to sightseeing – they want to be special, to have preferred seating or after-hours access, to feel as if they are blazing trails, even when they’re on the beaten path. And they long for romance. Boomers are sentimental suckers – they’re buying up old cars, they’re chasing up old lovers, they’re wanting to be swept away.

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