Expanding horizons in the growing cruise industry

Vadim Kashirin from the Passenger Port of Saint Petersburg shares the secrets of the port’s success
Expanding horizons in the growing cruise industry

By Elizabeth Robinson |

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of the International Cruise and Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

Vadim Kashirin took the reins of the Passenger Port of Saint Petersburg Marine Façade in April 2016, bringing a wealth of experience from a career that spans engineering, law and the armed forces. Under his direction the port, which was completed in 2011, has continued to develop amid continuous growth, and it shows no signs of slowing down.

“Saint Petersburg has already become one of the cruise capitals of the world, and interest in it is growing year by year,” says Kashirin. “Today, it is the most popular destination of the region. More than seven million tourists visit the city every year, and half a million come by sea. According to surveys among tourists, 75% choose cruises on the Baltic Sea only if there is a call in Saint Petersburg.”

Most of those cruise passengers come from outside the region: a quarter are citizens of Germany, while 19% are US citizens and 13% are British, with citizens of Spain, Italy and other countries making up the remainder. “Cruise tourists choose Saint Petersburg because it is not like any other Russian city,” says Kashirin. “Palaces, sculptures, bridges and fountains, theatres and museums give an opportunity to explore its rich history and our times full of political, economic and cultural events.”

The city’s cultural and historical attractions are enhanced by the diversity of its tourist programmes and the superior level of service on offer throughout the year, Kashirin explains. “During autumn and spring, the city holds international events including the Festival of Light, Festival of Ice Breakers, the Fireworks Festival and musical festivals,” he says. “Visitors can see premieres at the city’s famous theatres and visit the museums without queues and at lower prices. In addition, the Saint Petersburg Committee for Tourism Development has created the Calendar of Saint Petersburg Events for 2018. This unique publication unites all the significant events of Saint Petersburg in the coming year.” The current pace of cruise tourism development is attracting additional attention to Saint Petersburg, says Kashirin. “Cruise line representatives have repeatedly emphasised the interest in our region, and Saint Petersburg in particular. Unlike other cruise markets, it is the shore excursions and programmes that are commercially attractive for ship operators in the Baltic.”

The Marine Façade plays a central role in that development. Boasting seven berths, three cruise terminals and one cruise-ferry terminal and accommodating ships up to 340 metres in length, the port is one of the most modern terminals in the Baltic. “The port receives more than 250 ship calls per year and more than half a million tourists come to the city through the sea gateway annually,” says Kashirin. “In 2017, we received the largest cruise ship ever to arrive here – MSC Cruises’ 333-metre-long MSC Fantasia with 3,922 passengers onboard. The Marine Façade’s construction has made it possible to bring Saint Petersburg to a new level of cruise tourism, not only in the Baltic Region but across the world. In conditions of constantly growing demand, it’s enabled us to create the prerequisites for further development.”

Kashirin has no intention of resting on the Marine Façade’s laurels. Rather, he is focused on attracting increasing numbers of cruise and ferry tourists to the region. “We closely cooperate with other Baltic Sea ports on a number of issues,” he says. “First, there is a joint discussion of the prospects of cruise shipping in the region, considering external factors such as new regulations in the field of environmental protection or the new International Maritime Organization standards. Most of these ports are members of the largest international profile associations, such as the Cruise Lines International Association or Cruise Europe, which unites the ports of western and northern Europe. In Spring 2016, the Joint Declaration on cooperation between the main ports of the Baltic Sea was signed, which was developed on the proposal of the Marine Façade. The document was signed by representatives of the ports of Kiel, Copenhagen, Riga, Rostock, Stockholm, Tallinn and Helsinki. According to this document, our joint efforts are aimed at increasing cruise and ferry passenger traffic and increasing the overall tourist attractiveness of the region.”

The success of those efforts can be seen in an increasingly busy schedule as Saint Petersburg attracts more than 20 major cruise corporations and 30 brands. “We are already accepting applications from cruise lines for 2019-2020, and the schedule of ship calls for 2018 is fully formed,” says Kashirin. “In accordance with the plan a 10% increase is expected in relation to the 2017 cruise season.”

Thanks to regulatory changes it’s also become easier to include Saint Petersburg as part of the cruise experience. “A call at Saint Petersburg while travelling on a sea passenger ship is one of the most convenient and popular ways for foreign tourists to visit Russia thanks to available visa privileges,” explains Kashirin. “Tourists can stay in the Russian Federation without a visa for 72 hours as part of a tourist group, if they arrive onboard a sea passenger ship.”

As tourist numbers grow, the Port of Saint Petersburg Marine Façade is growing with them. A project to reconstruct the port’s checkpoint is underway to increase its capacity, following legislation that changed the status of the State Border checkpoint from ‘passenger’ to ‘cargo and passenger’. “We plan to complete the reconstruction and equipping of the checkpoint in the fourth quarter of 2018,” says Kashirin. “So far only cruise ships have taken advantage of the port’s infrastructure, but after the reconstruction we will be able to receive cargo-passenger ferries on a regular basis. As a result, the port will be able to serve up to 500 calls and more than one million cruise and ferry passengers per year.”

Ensuring a superior experience for those ship operators is just as important as welcoming their passengers. “The port provides all the necessary services to vessels meeting the highest world standards,” says Kashirin. “It takes only 10 minutes after mooring to connect the vessel to the shore networks for water supply and delivery of domestic water and waste. The corresponding networks are located directly in the pier of the berths, which fully ensures compliance with all environmental standards and requirements. Some berths are equipped with infrastructure to provide ships with shorepower, which is most often used by ships that are on long-term stay at the berths.

“As an additional incentive measure during the ‘low’ navigation season (15 January to 30 April and 1 October to 25 December), Passenger Port of Saint Petersburg Marine Façade provides 50% discounts for cruise ship calls. Also, during the low season, the coefficient is applied to the port fees of FSUE Rosmorport.”

Looking ahead, Kashirin says the port is considering a project to establish a regional passenger shipping company. “This is one of the most important tasks of the city government and our company,” he says. “The establishment of a regional passenger shipping company will increase the recognition of Russia abroad, increase the popularity of Saint Petersburg as a world tourist destination, and ensure the full utilisation of the infrastructure of the Passenger Port of Saint Petersburg all year round. It will make it possible to go to any place in the Baltic Sea from the port without seasonal restrictions. We expect that a large number of both Russians and foreign citizens will use these services.” This project, along with the reconstruction of the checkpoint, form part of the port’s strategy to develop world cruise tourism, with Saint Petersburg as a key destination. Other plans include a turnaround port project that will allow tourists staying in Russia for a prolonged period to visit two capitals – Moscow and Saint Petersburg – as well as other famous cities. The port has also started constructing remote mooring dolphins to increase the length of berths and provide capacity for the simultaneous mooring of two 330-metre vessels. And with high-quality service and comfortable conditions always high on the agenda, a further endeavour involves the construction of a fitness complex for tennis, mini football, basketball and volleyball.

All initiatives of the Passenger Port of Saint Petersburg Marine Façade are implemented jointly and with the support of the city government, and Kashirin points to the annual growth of key indicators as proof of their success. Now, the organisations are jointly developing a strategy to promote the city’s tourism potential, including a Centre for International Cruise Tourism in Saint Petersburg. “The Marine Façade will be the backbone, around which well-coordinated and effective work on the cruise segment of the city’s tourism industry development will be ongoing,” says Kashirin.

An expansion of the port’s activity area is also in prospect, including the transfer of the Marine Station mooring complex in Saint Petersburg, where ferry vessels are currently moored, under the management of the Marine Façade. “This will allow both an increase in the number of berths and the optimisation of management procedures by creating a single operator,” says Kashirin.

“Saint Petersburg has already been visited by citizens of more than 180 countries, disembarking at the Passenger Port of Saint Petersburg. Therefore, our main task is constant development and improvement of the quality of services provided to vessels and their passengers.”

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