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Destinations Together forges a community of Caribbean tour operators

CRUISE Larry Stauffer and Tom Anderson.jpeg
'We have great relationships with these tour operators. They're family,' said Larry Stauffer, left. He and Tom Anderson, right, co-founded Destinations Together
Shore excursions experts/business consultants Larry Stauffer and Tom Anderson formed Destinations Together, a platform for information and collaboration among Caribbean tour operators.

Regional discussion groups, website, webinars

During this time of grave uncertainty, they wanted to help longtime partners who provide the destination experiences that are such an important part of cruise travel. To share information and insights, they developed 12 regional discussion/text groups, built a website and launched a weekly webinar series.

Stauffer, who led Port Adventures at Disney Cruise Line before retiring from a long Disney career in 2016, and Anderson, who most recently directed product development for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.'s Global Tour Operations until 2019, had been collaborating on several projects before COVID-19 emerged.

'Once the pandemic was here, Larry and I focused on this idea to support the tour operators in the Caribbean (including Mexico, Central America and the Bahamas), and we have been working nonstop,' Anderson said.

A family

'We love this industry. We love the people. We were thinking how do we reach out?' Stauffer added. 'We have great relationships with these tour operators. They're family.'  

Destinations Together was formed three weeks ago. More than 180 attendees were invited and about 78 have signed on. There is no membership process and no fee to join.

'Anyone is welcome,' Anderson said.

'A lot of it is open-forum discussion, opinions, sharing articles,' Stauffer said. 'It's collaborative.'

Cash flow No. 1 concern

They cited the No. 1 concern of the community's participants as cash flow and how to bridge the gap until revenue resumes. Since nobody knows when cruises will restart, 'they're managing to unknowns,' Anderson said. The group has advised tour operators be guided by how the cruise lines are bolstering liquidity, with the major public companies planning for a worst-case no-revenue environment in 2020.

Operational protocols

Another uncertainty is who will be setting protocols for tour operations once cruising begins. 'Will it be CARICOM, the FCCA, CLIA?' Stauffer said.

If motor coaches can be only half-filled to maintain social distancing — a practice that's been mentioned by Asia's Genting Cruise Lines — how can additional buses be secured? What sorts of chemicals will be required for sanitation? Will it be necessary to wipe down the vehicle during the tour? Where can tour operators source masks and gloves?'

'There are a lot of unknowns. [Tour operators] are anxious to get as much information as possible,' Stauffer said. 'This is unprecedented.'

Operators are also spending a lot of time evaluating their excursions vis a vis possible future limitations. Maybe some won't be able to operate — snorkeling, for example.

Expert-led webinars

During the group's first webinar, last week, seasoned tour operators Marc Melville (Chukka Caribbean Adventures) and Trino Molina (Aviomar Adventours) provided a Western Caribbean update. They talked about how to manage in a crisis, staying focused and communicating with their teams, including subcontractors and guides. They also shared what they're doing to maintain personal well-being.

Up next: Veterans Steve Nielsen and Mike Ronan

This Wednesday, two highly respected cruise line veterans, Steve Nielsen, former longtime VP shore operations, Princess Cruises, and Mike Ronan, former VP government relations, Latin America/Caribbean, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., will provide their perspective on cruising's overall resiliencey and the Caribbean region, focusing on how the destinations and the lines have worked together to overcome diverse challenges going back decades. They'll delve into the importance of collaboration, clear communication and endurance that will be needed to navigate the COVID-19 era.

Lori Pennington-Gray on crisis management

In May Lori Pennington-Gray, professor & director of Tourism Crisis Management Initiative, University of Florida, is scheduled to deliver a webinar on crisis management, new areas of interest within recovery in a post-COVID-19 world, crisis communication take-aways and examples of best practices.

'We're just trying to make sure we bring great content and information to tour operators. We don't think we've gone through the worst of it yet,' Anderson noted.

'We hope to continue to grow. We're open to anything and everything,' Stauffer said of Destinations Together. 'We don't know where it's going to go.'