Destinations such as Odessa offer new experiences for cruise passengers
The Black Sea, an area with a wealth of inspiring destinations and historical sights, is preparing to welcome cruise ships once again as Istanbul, Turkey gears up to open Galataport, a new cruise terminal, in 2020. The investment in new infrastructure comes as cruise lines are beginning to signal their interest in returning to the region following several years of social and political issues that have made sailing in the Black Sea a difficult prospect.
“Terrorist attacks in Istanbul, the annexation of Crimea and armed conflict in the east of Ukraine led to a bad perception of the region by the cruise companies and tourists,” says Mariia Luzhanska, tourism and euro-integration specialist at Odessa Sea Port Authority. “In addition to this, the ‘gate’ to the Black Sea – the main passenger terminal of the Port of Istanbul – has been closed for reconstruction.”
Luzhanska explains that the rules governing passage through the Bosporus Strait have been another barrier. “Vessels over 250 metres in length are strictly recommended to go through the strait with pilotage and accompanied by tugboats,” she says. “Some of the cruise companies said that it could be a restriction for their vessels to pass the Bosporus and come to the Black Sea.”
Even now that the political situation is stabilising somewhat, many Black Sea ports still face a struggle to build a reputation as must-see cruise destinations. “Regular meetings with representatives of the major cruise companies need to be carried out more often,” says Luzhanska. “Promoting our ports via different specialised sites and newspapers for cruise tourism are of prime importance.”
To address these difficulties, several of the Black Sea ports joined with the MedCruise Association to launch a working group in 2018, aiming to promote the region as a destination. The group participated at Seatrade Cruise Global 2019 and the 54th MedCruise General Assembly, meeting with cruise lines to encourage them to return to the region.
One goal was to highlight why the absence of cruise ships in the past few years could be seen as a unique selling point. “During the 54th MedCruise General Assembly, cruise companies discussed the problem of finding new destinations – the Black Sea Region could be the solution,” Luzhanska says. “Cruise ships have not visited the region for almost four years, so it can be a new and unique place to visit for passengers.”
When passengers do return, the Black Sea ports will be more than able to receive them. The Port of Istanbul will reopen in 2020 with a new terminal – named Galataport Istanbul – and airport. The Port of Odessa, meanwhile, has a passenger terminal with five quays at depths of up to 11.5 metres, and was previously a leading destination in the area. There are also several smaller ports, such as the Port of Constanza, the Port of Burgas and the Port of Varna, all of which can receive vessels up to and over 300 metres in length. “The passenger terminals of the Black Sea Ports are able to host several large vessels simultaneously,” adds Luzhanska.
With the sights and infrastructure available in the region, Luzhanska is positive about the future growth of the Black Sea Ports, despite the current challenges they face. “This region was always profitable for cruise companies, so they are planning to come back after receiving the permission of safety departments,” she says. “The Black Sea region is interesting as a destination and the infrastructure is ready to receive the ships.”
This article was first published in the 2019 issue of Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
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