Although the Covid-19 pandemic had a cataclysmic effect on the cruise industry, it also gave rise to new collaborations, new itineraries and a new way forward, according to Marcus Puttich, senior head of port management and operations at TUI Cruises.
“Something I personally take away, but also share with the team, is the greater collaboration we have had in the past three years,” he says. “It’s shown us, more than ever before, that this is a people business. We really need to trust each other and be careful with all the decisions we make to sustain the business and prepare for future.”
In the past, a port would pay a marketing visit to the cruise lines to be considered for inclusion on their itineraries, but Puttich explains that the discussions are now far deeper. He partly attributes this to the TUI Cruises’ webinars that took place in 2020 when there was a requirement for both sides to explain and understand the others’ protocols, possibilities and challenges.
“As cruise lines, we need to take much more time to sit down with ports and really talk about the destinations,” he says. “What do we need to do for the community to receive, and want to receive, us? It is very important to listen to each other.
“Generally, the port community has done a great job providing information. It has brought many of us closer together; we realise how dependent we are on each other which is a great benefit that we can take away from the pandemic years.”
Such collaborations were an enormous help when searching for itinerary solutions for the ships. TUI Cruises was the first volume cruise line in the world to restart cruising in July 2020 with so-called ‘blue cruises’ sailing from German ports and offering sea days only. These were partly facilitated by Sweden’s open-door policy and Norway’s successful push for winter cruises.
As a result, one of TUI Cruises’ sister brands, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, had expedition ships sailing winter cruises out of Germany to the Norwegian fjords and Finland for the northern lights and deep snow expeditions. “Because of Covid, we saw a demand out of Germany for these itineraries and now there will always be such a ship here in winter,” says Puttich.
In addition, TUI Cruises is also homeporting a mass-volume Mein Schiff ship in Germany in winter to sail long-haul Caribbean cruises, Canary Island cruises and longer cruises along the Norwegian coast towards the North Cape.
There has also been strong passenger demand for Greece, following TUI Cruises becoming the first cruise brand to restart cruises from the country in summer 2020. Hence, Mein Schiff 5 will be based in Heraklion, Crete, for complete summer seasons from 2024.
Further afield, TUI Cruises decided to introduce some long-haul cruises to the Caribbean on Mein Schiff 1 in winter 2021-2022. “We were looking for open destinations,” says Puttich. “It was a short-term plan but then we saw it was quite well received, so we will continue with it.”
The sea days on these itineraries – and on the ‘blue’ cruises – were also well received by passengers. “During the pandemic we saw that guests benefitted from having sea days,” says Puttrich, noting that while TUI Cruises is now considering introducing these into cruises elsewhere, the destinations remain its top priority when designing itineraries.
Looking eastwards, TUI Cruises has worked hard on returning to Singapore and is proud of being the only volume market international brand to have returned post-pandemic. “We are very happy that we are finally able to offer cruises in Asia again,” says Puttich. “It was quite an effort to do but the authorities and stakeholders very much supported us in getting cruise back to the region, including South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.”
Considering the next decade, Puttich thinks there will be more emphasis on sustainable deployment and not just in terms of the environment. “It will become more important to engage with the port community on what can we do as a cruise line and strengthen our communication so that the destination is able to see the benefit from us visiting,” he says. “We want to put the focus more on, whatever we do, the footprint we leave is as small as it possibly can be.”
“The focus with itinerary planning will be more towards sustainability, not just cold ironing but also speed and everything you can do to reduce the footprint.”
In this respect TUI Cruises is already plugging into shore power where it is available. Of utmost importance is that the shore power comes from renewable sources in order to ensure that emissions are not shifted elsewhere. Although the company cannot invest in the installations directly, Puttich says it pays for the electricity supplied and is making long-term commitments to ports, booking as early as possible and not cancelling calls without reason.
Acknowledging that the cold ironing is a “steep learning curve” for everyone, the company plays its part in explaining how, what, why and when it plugs in, inviting stakeholders onboard to learn from its engineers.
What is clear is that the availability (or lack of) shore power will affect future itineraries from 2025 onwards. TUI Cruises is conducting a survey among all its ports to see which have shore power plans and, if so, when installations will take place. “If there are two ports in similar locations, one with shore power and one without, we will choose the port with it,” says Puttich. “We all know that everything we do comes at a certain price, and we have to make sure our business is sustainable. We have to do our part and invite ports to do so also.”
Although lowering speed can also help to reduce the environmental impact of ships, going slower may reduce the number of ports on an itinerary, which conflicts with TUI Cruises’ mission to go places and learn about different cultures. Indeed, says Puttich, German travellers tend to have a high participation in tours. “Hence, the focus would be on doing smaller changes on the overall sustainability impact, for example arriving later, leaving earlier or overnighting, to save fuel tonnes.”
TUI Cruises has also been incorporating new turnaround calls into its itineraries following successful transit calls in certain destinations. For example, also its Mein Schiff vessels have made turnaround calls in Genoa in Italy, Doha in Qatar, and Rostock-Warnemünde in Germany. It is now considering interporting in the Mediterranean which may result in additional turnaround possibilities.
Meanwhile, when it comes to the Baltic, Puttich says stakeholders in the region worked very hard, both individually and as part of associations such as Cruise Baltic and Cruise Europe, to ensure they are well prepared for the cruise lines to return.
This reference to collaborative brings us full circle. “Only when we talk together will we resolve the challenges that are out there,” says Puttich, noting that this applies to his team too. “We always think of what we can do. We don’t waste time on negative thoughts. Things will be a lot easier to solve if we adopt a positive mindset.”
And it’s clear that the results of this philosophy are already bearing fruit for the brand.
This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Review for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox or your door.