Shop Sydney! We Have Two Stores!

I write today as one of the 8,800 residents of Sydney — Nova Scotia’s third-largest city, urban heart of a rich coal-mining region, industrial hub of Atlantic Canada — to ask Holland America Line (HAL):


(That’s Dutch for “What is wrong with you?” At least, I hope it is. If I’ve said something much worse, excuse my French Dutch.)

HAL ships are our most frequent visitors — the Veendam, Maasdam, Zuiderdam and Rotterdam are at the dock so often it’s like having a “Little Holland” in the North End. And they’ve been coming here since our cruise ship industry was a little, cooing baby. So how could they get us so wrong?


Shopping District

The terrible truth was revealed by Sydney resident Rose Courage, whose friend found a HAL brochure on a downtown sidewalk prompting Courage to write to the Cape Breton Post about the alternative facts it contained. Facts like those in my opening sentence. Or like those contained in the shopping map:

Source: HAL brochure

Source: HAL brochure


Yes, downtown Sydney has two stores — both are owned by the same family (the Meloneys), one is not even, strictly speaking, downtown, it’s in the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion (from which the Big Fiddle has mysteriously disappeared). There is also a Post Office. Other than that, it is a wasteland. Why would you shop there? Why wouldn’t you just shop on board the cruise ship, like a sentient being?  Look at all the great stuff you can buy on the ship, or in other ports or online. See? We’ve helpfully put ads for all of it right in the Sydney brochure:


Source: HAL brochure

Source: HAL brochure


Customized concept

In HAL’s defense (although not really), it didn’t actually create the Sydney shopping brochure, it contracted that job out to PPI Group, which:

[C]reates unique and informative printed materials to enhance the guests’ shopping experience and support the Port Shopping Program.

PPI Group caters to cruise lines’ preferences and branding standards, and will work closely with the cruise lines to come up with a customized concept.

I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall of the meeting where HAL expressed its “preferences” for the Sydney shopping brochure:

We’d like it to contain some information about Sydney, but nothing too accurate. We don’t want to look pretentious.

And the reason for the barren downtown is explained clearly in the brochure:

All stores listed on the map have paid a promotional fee and have given Holland America Line’s guests a Buyer’s Guarantee valid for 30 days after purchase.

I always feel more comfortable shopping in stores that have paid for a recommendation, don’t you?

Besides, the PPI brain trust has sussed out that downtown Sydney is not where the shopping action is. No, as per the brochure:

Sydney River is just south of central Sydney and is a rich and vibrant shopping district.

Just follow the “Oceanfront Esplanade” until it widens into a four-lane, semi-highway called King’s Road. Don’t walk on the water side, though, because the sidewalk peters out suddenly in favor of a delightful grove of local vegetation. You’ll have one opportunity to cross the rich and vibrant shopping district, at the traffic lights, so decide which side most tickles your fancy: do you want to buy insurance, pizza and furniture or would you prefer flowers, Chinese food and building supplies? Once you’ve made your choice, shop on! You’ll eventually come to a strip mall anchored by an intimate, local boutique called “Walmart” and a charming green grocer’s called “Sobey’s.” Laden with purchases (or perhaps having had one too many close calls with passing cars) you may want to cab it back to the port.


Inaccurate information

Port of Sydney Development Corporation CEO Marlene Usher responded with record speed to Courage’s letter, penning her own missive to the Post which appeared on Monday. She begins, rather oddly, by explaining she’s writing about “a handout reportedly distributed by a cruise line to its passengers.”


Since she then goes on to explain that she contacted the cruise line about the handout, had discussions with the the “third-party firm responsible for the content in the handout,” and ensured that “steps are underway to correct the information,” it seems rather clear the handout does in fact exist, contains outdated and incorrect information and is, in fact, distributed to passengers else why bother to correct it?

But the suggestion that the handout wasn’t actually distributed to passengers is not the strangest passage in Usher’s letter. No, the strangest passage must be this one:

The distribution of inaccurate information unfortunately appears to be a trend due to a lack of research and ease of transmission.

Right, inaccurate information is famously easier to transmit than accurate information. Facts are so weighty, they get caught up in printers and telephone wires where made-up population figures and dated economic information can sail right through, everyone knows that.

Usher is on the case, though, and Sydney can “rest assured” the information will be corrected. Although there’s a caveat:

One challenge is the extensive corporate machinery within the cruise industry. Change doesn’t happen quickly and even on a printed handout this type of amendment takes time to run through the ranks.



If this brochure does nothing else, it will surely put to rest any notion that the cruise lines are our “partners.” Usher admits as much when she warns us how long it could take to change the brochure.

Cruise lines have one concern: the bottom line. They don’t care if passengers are given inaccurate information about the ports of call — ports of call are necessary evils. They’d really prefer to keep passengers safely on board ship until they’ve spent all their money.

If passengers must go ashore, then the cruise line will encourage them to book excursions (because the line gets the lion’s share of the fees for onshore excursions), or it will suggest they shop at stores that have paid for a recommendation or it will recommend activities that don’t involve spending money: “…go for a walk and…watch ships in the harbor;” “…be sure to get your photo taken with the world’s largest fiddle.”

And here’s us building them a new, $20 million berth.

We should have made them go Dutch.


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