United front for cruise in Med

Optimism for the future but capacity and pricing remain challenging

By Michele Witthaus |

As the ninth Seatrade Med event opened in Marseille on 27 November, industry representatives gathered to discuss the challenges facing cruise lines and destinations in the region.

Keynote speaker Manfredi Lefebvre D’Ovidio, chairman of the European Cruise Council and chairman of Silversea Cruises, said: “The industry has never been more united in a positive process of development.” However, he warned that the Schengen visa process was a continuing stumbling block to growing cruise tourism in the region for source markets outside the European Union. “We are asking policymakers to simplify visas,” he said.

“Competitors are willing to put competition aside for the good of the industry,” said guest speaker Christine Duffy, president and CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). With cruise growth continuing despite the economic downturn, she predicted: “2013 will be a turning point for the industry.”

David Dingle, CEO of Carnival UK, sounded a similarly optimistic note on the subject when asked whether the Mediterranean had reached capacity for cruise shipping. “Some cruise operators have redeployed a small number of ships but most cruise lines are maintaining Mediterranean capacity and some brand new ships are heading straight for the Med,” he remarked, adding: “A period of slightly reduced capacity is a good thing to restore pricing.”

Gianni Onorato, president of Costa Crociere, said action was still needed to improve pricing levels. “There is a distinction between growth and healthy growth,” he said. “We have the sexiest product but sometimes also the cheapest. We must now build to give proper value and increase our penetration in countries where we are already successful.”

Lack of preparedness of Mediterranean ports to receive ships was a growing problem, said John Tercek, VP, commercial and new business development, RCCL, who cited capacity issues at popular ports such as Naples, Civitavecchia and Livorno, alongside growing environmental opposition to cruise visits in Venice. “We are working with Ravenna as a new homeport as an alternative to Venice,” he said.

Roberto Perocchio, managing director of Venezia Terminal Passeggeri, said the city had become a second victim of the Concordia accident. “We have gone from marquee port to ‘ill patient’ as the public imagined what could happen in Venice. But it is the safest port in the world.” Michael Thamm, CEO of Costa, also weighed in on behalf of the city. He said: “All those who benefit from Venice should stand up and join us” in working to save Venice as a cruise destination.

MSC Cruises managing director Domenico Pellegrino said that despite huge growth in visits to the Mediterranean, cruise operators were hampered by infrastructural underinvestment in ports and rigid pricing structures. “Ports have kept operational costs the same year-round, despite massive differences between summer and winter costs. I call on Mediterranean ports to develop a flexible port cost structure.”

This year, the Seatrade Med host city of Marseille celebrates 26 years of maritime history. Planned port expansion, which will see the development of a new terminal by 2014 with investment by Costa Cruises and MSC Cruises, will include new drydock facilities to be supplied by Chantier Naval de Marseille and San Giorgio del Porto, in a consortium with T. Mariotti.

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