Travelers “used to a very high level of service” on a Holland America cruise can feel a bit lost when they step off the dock in Haines, Lenise Henderson-Fontenot said at Friday’s Haines Chamber of Commerce lunch.

Henderson-Fontenot shared her experiences as a “secret shopper” during a weeklong May cruise.

Karl Heinz, chamber president, introduced her as the owner of The Professional Development Co., and said Henderson-Fontenot “was asked to take a Holland America cruise from Seward, Alaska, to Vancouver, B.C., on one of the ships that stops in Haines and provide insights and observations to several clients.”

“It was quite an experience taking a cruise to my hometown,” Henderson-Fontenot said. She declined to say who hired her.

She has offered customer service training as a consultant for cruise lines, including Carnival, Norwegian and Princess.

Henderson-Fontenot, who has three children, is half owner of Chilkat Guides and Henderson Family Properties in Haines, a past president of the chamber and has lived in Haines nearly two decades.

Her cruise route included two days at sea, followed by stops at Haines, Juneau, Ketchikan and Vancouver. She said about 80 percent of cruise participants sign up online.

“The entire time you’re on the cruise, you’re being sold to,” Henderson-Fontenot said.

She noted two of the sales pitches are televisions that play videos produced by the cruise line, and advertising materials placed in mailboxes for each room.

Among the biggest marketing efforts, though, are “port talks” and “shopping talks,” Henderson-Fontenot said. Passengers have the option to attend these events in the ship’s auditorium to learn about the upcoming destination and shopping hot spots.

Henderson-Fontenot said the Haines port talk was “very interesting” to her. She said the PowerPoint slides focused on the history of Haines, with information on Fort Seward and how the town got its name.

“The majority of the audience wasn’t really responding to that,” Henderson-Fontenot said, but added that she was impressed with the cruise’s presentation on the Hammer Museum and Sheldon Museum.

Henderson-Fontenot said the port talk’s “intent was really good,” “enthusiastic” and “positive.”

She said Haines did not benefit from a shopping talk, since local businesses do not participate in the program that prepares a map of preferred stores.

With one cruise ship coming in a week, paying a large advertising fee to be part of the shopping talk “wouldn’t make sense” to businesses in Haines, Henderson-Fontenot said.

After a shopping talk, tourists can turn to shopping experts for the cruise, who share their cell phone number with passengers to give shopping advice. These experts even have made reservations for shoppers to visit a store before it opens, to make expensive purchases, Henderson-Fontenot said.

Speculation that “the cruise ship owns all these stores” is untrue, she said.

Henderson-Fontenot said shopping talks are “really seductive” and have recommended some businesses in Skagway.

She said after the stop in Haines, common comments were that the town was attractive and quaint, but spread out and difficult to navigate.

“It’s not really obvious how to shop in Haines,” Henderson-Fontenot said.

She said visitors did not understand the shuttle system and were hesitant to make some purchases, because they “just didn’t want to carry that all the way back to the dock.”

Henderson-Fontenot said Haines needs better signage and shopping maps. One option would be to develop a phone application where guests can download a map of stores.

Mayor Jan Hill noted she and Diana Kelm have handed out brochures and answered questions as cruise ship passengers exit the ship.

Henderson-Fontenot said another hurdle is that Holland America cruise participants often travel to Seward from Anchorage to start their trip. They already have seen several shops by the time they arrive in Haines, so locals must “set ourselves apart in some way,” Henderson-Fontenot said. That includes being responsive to questions and understanding visitor confusion.

“We compete with every other shop they’ve been to in Alaska,” she said.