On the job

Real world people working on the water

Authored by: Margaret Boyes

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Robert Duncan, Director of Marketing, Weiwaikum Cruise Ship Terminal

Robert Duncan was recently appointed director of marketing for Campbell River's newly-constructed Weiwaikum Cruise Ship terminal, the only First Nations cruise ship terminal in British Columbia. It services major cruise ship lines from around the world and, with plans to increase the number of calls from four full-size ships in 2007 to 30 per year in 2015, it will boost the local tourism economy and showcase Campbell Rivers' First Nations community to the world.

On The Job: Tell us about your current position. What does it involve, how long have you been doing it and what are the challenges?

Robert Duncan: I’ve had this job for about five months. Our company, Naut’sa mawt Resource Group (NRG) has the contract to provide marketing for the new terminal at Campbell River. My official title is “director of marketing” for the Weiwaikum Terminal. I’m very familiar with Campbell River. About five years ago I worked for the Campbell River Indian Band. I was involved from start to finish with the Discovery Harbour Shopping Centre. I also spent about seven years on a casino hotel project which ultimately didn’t come to fruition. My challenges include getting up to speed and getting to know the key players in the industry all over again. From a marketing perspective each company has its own hierarchy of personnel. Many seem to have the same job but different titles. It’s getting to know the industry and what it’s doing and so on.

OTJ: Why did you choose this job? What route have you taken in terms of education and experience?

Duncan: Before I did this you could almost say I was in the right place at the right time. A lot of what I do is self-taught. I spent 30 years as a commercial fisherman. I went to a marine college in the ‘70s but have no formal post-secondary education, just the University of Hard Knocks. I’ve never worked on a cruise ship. My role primarily has been to develop the protocol so Campbell River could become a port of call for the industry. I’ve re-established contact and relationships with people in the cruise industry, especially the marketing specialists with each of the companies.

OTJ: What does it take to successfully promote a cruise terminal?

Duncan: First you need a good product to market and then to develop the infrastructure to support the development. You must have good quality and a diversity of products to offer the industry. I don’t think any other port in the world offers the diversity, quality and quantity of products we have in Campbell River. The cruise ship industry prefers to deal with just one contact when they come to the larger communities. That’s what the shore program, which is the coordinator for local industry’s tourism products, does. It offers one-stop shopping. It offers a wide range of shore excursions including fishing, walking and kayaking tours.

OTJ: What do you like best about your job and what, if anything, would you change?

Duncan: (Laughs) I guess what I like best is the idea of opening up new opportunities for the shore program and the community itself. The cruise ship industry is one element of the development of the community that I’ve been involved in. I don’t think there’s anything I’d change - obviously immediate success would be nice. Sometimes the benefits take a bit longer than I’d like but patience is a good thing to have. Looking forward, I’d like to continue with the marketing program.
The bottom line is bringing more cruise ships to Campbell River and by doing a good job we’ll ultimately be providing more opportunities for growth particularly in the aboriginal tourism sector.

OTJ: What are your thoughts about the looming labour shortage in the marine industry now so many baby boomers are retiring?

Duncan: I guess that’s going to be an issue for everybody and we’ll just have to keep plodding along. But certainly there’s a labour force in First Nations’ communities we could rely on for future development.

OTJ: Tell me about some people in your line of work you admire, and some of the memorable moments in your career.

Duncan: I admire the senior executives in the cruise companies. They have a lot of influence over what happens in their industry especially in developing new ports of call for their companies. I suppose my most memorable moment was when we did the opening for the Discovery Harbour Shopping Centre. I think everyone was proud of their achievements - I’ll never forget that.

OTJ: What are your thoughts about the future of the BC cruise industry - where do you see things going over the next 10 to 20 years? Will there be market saturation or a continuing rise as more and more boomers retire?

Duncan: I think the BC cruise industry is still growing, and I think it will grow for some time. This is certainly the case with Campbell River. There’s better quality. We have enormous growth potential here and this will complement the community’s economic development initiatives. More boomers are starting to enjoy their retirement and travel the world to see the sights. About a million passengers pass through all the BC ports annually. This number is relatively small compared to other ports like the Caribbean. As a small community we want to ensure that growth is compatible with the community’s desire to grow as well. It will grow as much as we want or need it to grow.

OTJ: How does the new Campbell River terminal fit in with existing terminals in Victoria, Vancouver and Prince Rupert? Is it competitive, or is it a case of the more terminals we have the stronger we are?

Duncan: I think we’re all competing to some extent. But we’re also all working together in BC. Most cruise ship operators see Vancouver as a home port or a turn-around port so there’s not any competition there. In fact it complements the smaller ports by being a home port. Victoria, Nanaimo and Campbell are all ports of call to both Vancouver and Seattle as the home ports. We’re all well positioned to provide the foreign port requirements of the passenger service act. But at the same time each of our ports wants to develop products locally which in turn support the activities of the ports of call.

OTJ: Is the industry seeing or expecting fallout from the US economic crunch currently underway?

Duncan: I don’t think we’ll see or know any of these impacts for a while. Recently the Canadian Ports Commission did an economic impacts study for 2003 to 2007. It demonstrated marginal growth in the industry nationally. In BC, for example, our growth was approximately 26 percent in that period. The Cruise BC initiative will continue to monitor economic as well as other indicator factors.

OTJ: What is Campbell River doing to attract more cruise lines?

Duncan: That’s what our company’s role is. Basically highlighting the Weiwaikum Cruise Ship Shore Program and the products and experiences we have here. We handle 1,900 passengers daily. We’re basically marketing what we have to offer to the travel industry. In May we attended a Cruise-a-thon in Vancouver. We’ve participated in two destination awareness sessions, one in Miami and one in Seattle. This was about creating awareness of BC ports. So we’ll continue to do that as well as other initiatives. We target cruise ship companies we think would be a good fit for what Campbell River offers. Often we’ll make sales calls to their offices in the USA. We’ve developed a short DVD presentation to make to travel agents in North America. The cruise industry, like many industries, is focused on the bottom line and we want to ensure there is a balance with them and our vendors and at the end of the day everyone is happy.

OTJ: If you weren’t doing what you do what would you be doing?

Duncan: (Laughs.) I’ve never really thought about it. I might be running a small charter boat business. If I was semi-retired, maybe sitting on a beach in Maui.

OTJ: Do you have any advice for young people entering the marine tourism industry?

Duncan: Obviously getting grade 12 is important, and then specific training in whatever your interests might be. You can get tourism training at the college level. There are many levels of participation in this business.

Figure 1 - Campbell River's newly-constructed Weiwaikum Cruise Ship Terminal is the only First Nations cruise ship terminal in British Columbia. Robert Duncan’s role is to market the terminal’s Shore Program and highlight the tourism products and experiences available in the Campbell River area. Photos courtesy Weiwaikum Cruise Ship Terminal.
Figure 2 - Glittering lights illuminate a cruise ship docked at the Weiwaikum Cruise Ship Terminal on a summer evening. Photos courtesy Weiwaikum Cruise Ship Terminal.
Margaret Boyes is a Victoria, BC based copywriter. She writes sales letters, direct marketing packages, e-mails, landing pages, web pages, brochures, sell sheets, case studies, newsletters and other communications that get leads and make sales. Visit her website for more information. This article was first published in Mariner Life Magazine, a Vancouver based publication, in July 2008.
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