Environmental gains in Europe's cruise market

Over 180 delegates journeyed to Bruges earlier this year for the Cruise Europe conference. Jon Ingleton was at the event to record the highlights

Environmental gains in Europe's cruise market
Discussions focused on continuing growth, environmental concerns and deployment cycles

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2019 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

“Europe remains a very strong marketplace despite the uncertainty of Brexit,” said Hernan Zini, vice president of worldwide port operations at Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. “Most major economies are growing, and outbound tourism expenditure is on the up too.”

Three bold statements, but ones that set the tone for a series of positive and insightful discussions at Cruise Europe’s 2019 conference in Bruges, Belgium, which all suggested Europe’s cruise market is set to continue growing stronger in future. In fact, as Zini reported, statistics show that the cruise market as a proportion of all outbound tourism expenditure has grown by 13% over the past five years.

To maintain this upward trajectory, Zini said Europe must resolve issues related to Brexit, overcrowding, the environment, operating costs, regional competition and port infrastructure. While none of these topics are new to cruise industry discussions, it’s important that they stay on the agenda until they are successfully resolved.

The environment has been a hot topic at most industry conferences in recent years, and so it was in Bruges. Zini outlined his company’s key principles for protecting oceans: “Reduce, reuse, recycle; proactive pollution prevention; going above and beyond compliance; and continuous improvement.” All speakers at Cruise Europe shared these sentiments, providing countless examples of how cruise lines, ports and destinations are achieving each of these laudable goals.

Other discussions focused on the environmental considerations for ships, which Royal Caribbean’s Zini outlined as being in four categories: natural resource depletion, emissions, discharge and disposal. In each category, the cruise sector continues to play a leadership role for the entire marine industry. To emphasise how quickly improvements are being made, Zini highlighted how Royal Caribbean International’s Symphony of the Seas (debuted in March 2018) is over 25% more efficient than her sister ship, which was built only eight years ago.

While deployment decisions still have the same fundamental criteria (brand strategy and positioning, profitability, port infrastructure and guest appeal, satisfaction and sourcing), Cruise Europe delegates heard that the traditional two-year deployment cycle is getting longer. There are numerous factors accounting for this increase but the result means that ports and other destination partners will be encouraged to start their own planning process much earlier too. Certainly, overcrowding will become a more pressing issue as additional tonnage is released and as governments add legislative restrictions. However, conference delegates did not view this as a problem. Instead, they are reimagining it as an opportunity for small or new cruise ports to take a profitable slice of calls and build new revenue streams around them.

The opportunity was acknowledged by Steven Young, vice president of port and shore operations at P&O Cruises and Cunard. “There are only 40 or 50 marquee ports and we like to go to destinations that surprise guests,” he said, implying that even relatively unknown ports can be an itinerary highlight with the right shore offer.

Although shoreside revenues have fallen since the glory days, Young gave destinations clear encouragement to get creative with their shore excursion products: “Shore excursions remain and essential part of our revenue at about 20%.”

Cruise line executives and port and destination delegates have seen the same topics headlining conference agendas year after year. However, the narrative is now evolving as positive steps (sometimes small, sometimes large) are taken in the right direction. This is still a young industry that’s finding its way. Patience isn’t an easy virtue but the other six are in play as well, helping to chart a course to smoother waters – just not at full steam because we’re in an industry that is conserving fuel!

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Jon Ingleton
By Jon Ingleton
Thursday, October 10, 2019