Representatives of the global cruise industry gathered in the Spanish port of Barcelona from 16-18 September for the biennial Seatrade Med exhibition and conference.
Sixte Cambra, president of the Port of Barcelona, told delegates that he was proud of his city’s record as having the largest cruise port in Europe and the fourth largest in the world. The port hosted 580,000 passengers in three days in the first week of September.
Opening the conference, CLIA Europe chairman and executive chairman of MSC Cruises, Pierfrancesco Vago, said the “new world” that had emerged from the global economic downturn presented strong prospects for attracting cruise tourism to the region. “Less than 3% of people in Europe have taken a cruise. In Asia that figure is less than 1%. This means that we have the opportunity as an industry to enjoy growth for at least the next two generations.” He said that the European shipbuilding tradition was a key strength, with 24 out of 27 vessels currently on order being built in European yards. However, he warned: “Most European governments still don’t fully appreciate the value of our industry. It’s our job to ensure they don’t undervalue it. I will personally be engaging with key MEPs and commission officials in the coming months in this regard.”
MedCruise president Stavros Hatzakos said that his organisation now represented more than 100 ports in the Mediterranean and adjoining seas. “In 2013 all records were broken, with more than 27 million passengers cruising in the region. More ports are in the game today, both big and small, and bigger vessels are deployed, which has an impact on both maritime and landside operations.”
A senior industry panel analysed the state of the Mediterranean cruise industry, with commentary from Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd’s president and COO, Adam Goldstein; David Dingle, new chairman of Carnival UK; Jorge Vilches, president and CEO of Pullmantur Cruises; and Kerry Anastassiadis, CEO of Louis Cruises.
In response to a question from Seatrade chairman Chris Hayman on whether north-south differences in Europe were leading to a ‘two-speed’ cruise industry in the region, Dingle conceded that there had been “bigger bumps in the road” in southern Europe. But he said: “I am encouraged that in Spain, the first signs of growth are showing, and there are also very encouraging passenger numbers in France. Here in Europe, we have been obliged to step up our professionalism and we have learned how to drive the market out of a difficult period. I’m starting to feel good about the European cruise market as a whole.”
Vilches echoed Dingle’s upbeat response to regional cruise growth. “We are very excited and optimistic about the French market, where growth has doubled. Also in Spain, we are looking forward to the ‘Oasis effect’”. (Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis of the Seas arrived several days before the event for her maiden deployment in Spain.) Goldstein said that the deployment of Oasis in the region this year had gone well and would be followed by the placement of Allure of the Seas next year. “It is symbolic that we can bring our largest ships here. We have constructed good itineraries and our guests are satisfied and that all bodes well. It takes a lot of work to get Oasis ready for new deployments and it is a great accomplishment.”
Anastassiades said that there were positive signs in European source markets following a difficult few years. “In the last three years an environment has been created where the value proposition of cruising has come to the fore. In the next two to three years, there will be a continued increase in demand for cruising in the Eastern Mediterranean.”
Vago emphasised the opportunities for cruise development in Europe, and the attendant need for targeted communications. “We need to let consumers know the advantages cruise offers as value for money and as an experience. More tonnage demands more advertising.” He noted upcoming trends such as yield management through the ‘de-seasonalisation’ of cruise, “offering the product 12 months a year.” However, geopolitical disturbances affecting popular winter cruise destinations could hamper this sort of expansion of cruise offerings, remarked Dingle. “Instability in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East is a real barrier to growing year-round cruising. It’s hard to build that part of the world for the future.”
Growing congestoin in marquee ports was another topic addressed by the panel. Goldstein said: “Oasis was part of the record number of passengers in Barcelona this week and it was handled with ease. The potential in the region can be achieved but will require a lot of infrastructure development, and turning plans into action is harder in some places than in others. If things stay as they are and lots more cruise ships come, it’s not going to work.”
Other sessions at the conference covered trends in upscale cruising, the current move towards longer port stays and overnights, logistics and ship supply, as well as marketing, sales and distribution. Relationships between ports, terminals and cruise lines were tabled for discussion, along with itineraries and shore excursions, as well as regulatory and environmental concerns.
This year’s edition of Seatrade Med also featured celebrations to mark UBM’s recent acquisition of Seatrade to form a combined entity in the global events market following years of cooperation between the two companies.
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