Seatrade, the cruise industry body, is having one of its conferences (“Seatrade Europe”) in Hamburg this week. Ahead of the conference (which runs from 6 September to 8 September) Seatrade has released an infographic which shows the 2016 market numbers for the major territories. They are:

  • Germany – 2.02 million passengers;
  • UK & Ireland – 1.9 million passengers;
  • Italy – 751,000 passengers;
  • France – about 500,00 passengers.

Of those, Germany and the UK & Ireland showed significant growth over the previous year – 11.3% for Germany and 5.6% for the UK. In contrast, Italy experienced a fall of 7% in 2016.

The figure for France is derived (by me) from two figures provided in the infographic. First, there’s a figure of 4.45 million for ‘overnight stays’, and secondly an average cruise length of 7.8 nights. Dividing one by t’other gets me to about 500,000 passengers or perhaps a bit more. That’s also a drop over the previous year, apparently – the number of ‘overnight stays’ in 2015 was 4.825 million.

Finally, there are reports of growth in both the Spanish and Belgian markets – 4% in both cases – but no gross figures.

The gloss that’s being put on these figures is that the markets in France, Italy and Spain show significant ‘growth prospects’. Quite how that would fit, if achieved, with the reduction of access by the ports themselves (see yesterday’s post about Dubrovnik’s intention to limit daily cruise passenger numbers) isn’t at all clear.

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Dubrovnik to limit numbers

Dubrovnik – the walls and the town

I’ve done a few posts about the way that cruise passenger numbers seem to be overwhelming some locations, and how in some cases those locations are responding by reducing access. Here’s another example – Dubrovnik.

There is concern over the congestion that can occur in the Old Town and on the walls when several ships are in port. One concern is that the ‘Dubrovnik experience’ that day, for all visitors not just cruise passengers, cannot be good. Another concern is that with such a large number of visitors, both the physical environment and the tourist infrastructure (toilets, food and water provision, etc) are in danger of being overwhelmed. In 2015 a UNESCO investigation visited the city (it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site) and their report was published in March 2016. Here’s a link to a page from which the report can be downloaded.

The report itself consists mainly of lots of verbiage – background, legal framework, etc – and even the recommendations do not sound especially exciting. The main thrust of these visits is to report on the local and national management procedures – e.g., is there are a management plan in place? if so, is it being implemented successfully? However, in this case there is one recommendation concerning cruise ship passengers which is interesting:

The Mission recommends that the issue of cruise ship tourism and its future management should continue to be a key element of the forthcoming Management Plan, and should be supported through appropriate legislation, as necessary. The maximum number of cruise ship tourists also be addressed in the Management Plan and should be defined following further analysis having regard to the sustainable carrying capacity of the city and emergency evacuation requirements, but should not exceed 8,000 tourists per day.

I was a little puzzled by a comment earlier in the Report which said (with respect to cruise passengers) “Although these visitors represent only a small proportion of total visitors (2.5% in 2013), they have a disproportionate impact on the World Heritage property due to their concentration in time and space“. This puzzled me at first, but I think the answer is that while there may be many more holiday makers staying in and around Dubrovnik during the season, only a very small number of them are aiming to walk the walls or visit the Old Town on any specific day or time. In the case of cruise passengers, however, pretty much everyone who’s able is heading for precisely these locations.

The daily limit of 8,000 cruise passengers is already in place, but I gather it’s currently a ‘soft limit’ – it has apparently been voluntarily agreed with the cruise lines. (Calls at Dubrovnik may have been booked years in advance, of course.) However, there’s now a story that a new mayor of Dubrovnik is aiming to reduce that still further, to 4000 passengers a day. Here’s a link to a newspaper article about it.

This is another straw in the wind. It must be clear to anyone who’s visited any of these places in recent years that the numbers of visitors has become overwhelming, or nearly so. Cruise visitors seem to be especially criticised, but there may be some justification – we are only in a port for a few hours, and en masse we head straight for honeypot locations in ways that perhaps those visitors there for longer stays, don’t. And numbers of cruise passengers have certainly been increasing, even in the fairly short time (12 years) we’ve been cruising – I have a feeling that if we looked at total passenger load in some of these ports in the mid-2000s and compared them with, say, 2015, we might be shocked at the increase.

This issue isn’t going away. The ships are getting bigger and the passenger numbers are getting higher. Ten years ago P&O had a fleet of, I think, five ships – Oriana, Aurora, Oceana, Arcadia, and Artemis. Total capacity, maybe 9000. Today the fleet is Oriana, Aurora, Oceana, Arcadia, Ventura, Azura, Britannia and Adonia – total capacity, somewhere around 17000. And another even bigger ship to come. Other fleets have increased much more dramatically than that – MSC, for example – ten years ago they operated four vessels each with a capacity under 2000 passengers. Then there’s the two German lines, AIDA and TUI. Ten years ago TUI Cruises didn’t exist and AIDA had, I think, a couple of small ships. Now between them they’ve got about a dozen, including some significantly sized ships; capacity may be around 20,000 passengers or more.

A quart just won’t go into a pint pot….. Here are links to a couple of previous posts I did on this topic: one on Venice, and another about Santorini. As you can see, my view on this does keep changing.

 

I’m astonished to find that it has been a month since I last posted here. Apologies for anyone who might have been waiting with bated breath….

I suppose the main piece of news today is that P&O and Cunard have posted their Summer 2019 schedules. They’re obviously continuing the new scheduling pattern of releasing cruise details in six-months dollops (or thereabouts) – I think we were into late winter 2018/19 already. The latest information takes us to the end of October 2019.

I’ve had a brief look at the P&O schedule, and to be honest it looks rather like more of the same. Oceana will be based at Valetta for the summer doing the same mix of seven night cruises either into the Adriatic or the the Tyrrhenian seas, and the eastern Mediterranean. The mix for the other ships seems to be pretty much as before. Oriana and Aurora will be doing a number of 14+ night cruises, as will Arcadia (including the now-traditional 24 night cruise to North America and back); Ventura will be doing a lot of seven night cruises, including a number to the Fjords; Azura will doing a mix of seven and fourteen night cruises, plus one nineteen night cruise to the eastern Mediterranean; and Britannia will also be doing a mix of seven and fourteen night cruises.

No news yet of Adonia’s itinerary for any dates after March 2019. Surely she can’t be leaving the fleet again?!?

Nothing has really caught my eye, except perhaps a 12 night cruise on Arcadia in June 2019 to Norway. Interestingly, it sticks to the fjords; although it’s longer, the itinerary goes no further north than Trondheim. So lots of penetration of the long fjords as well as the expected calls at Stavanger and Bergen, and a possible return to Alesund. But we may well have other plans for 2019….

I’d missed this article on the BBC News site. It makes interesting reading. Perhaps P&O is a little behind the curve – there weren’t many under-45s on our recent cruise to Norway and Iceland – but there gain, perhaps it was also at the wrong time of year.

Anyway, here’s the link. (Not so sure about the “faster and cheaper wifi” comment, though….)

Part of Dubrovnik harbour

I’m sure many people will have read this story on the BBC News website yesterday (16 July 2017). My response to the story has gone through the usual gamut of reactions – annoyance, analysis of the errors in the article, and eventual acceptance that there is a problem.

I did notice the following issues that I’d take issue with in the story:-

  • the ship in the picture is MSC Divina, and the location is St Mark’s Basin in Venice. Since regulations were introduced for the 2016 season, ships the size of the Divina (which I agree is huge….) no longer call at Venice, nor do they (as Divina did) start and finish cruises there. So that image is certainly a couple of years old;
  • Despite the picture of Venice at top of the article, the text hardly mentions that city. It’s mostly about Dubrovnik and Capri;
  • and the article does accept that cruise passengers aren’t the only visitors to those places.

But – there is no question that many places do experience tourist visitors on a scale that’s hard for them to accommodate; and that the number of visitors is affecting the experience that the visitors have. My own visit to the Acropolis in Athens, for example, was awful, and in Florence we felt that (as the article suggests) we were encountering only tourists or those serving their needs.

Of course, many of these small, comparatively remote places have become much easier to get to in the last couple of decades. It’s not just cruise companies but also budget airlines – easyJet, Ryanair, Jet2, and so on – who have made access to Venice,  Dubrovnik or Capri so easy. I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been to get to Venice even as recently as, say, 1990 – flight to Rome (from where?), possibly followed by a really expensive flight to Venice airport, but more likely a complicated train journey through Mestre to Venice itself. Similarly, Dubrovnik might have been accessible during the 70s and 80s, as communist Yugoslavia followed its independent line (independent of Moscow, that is) but at that time tourism was quite tightly controlled – the great majority of tourists came on package holidays and were encouraged to stay in the resort areas, e.g. Pula or Rovinj in Istria;  visits to other places mainly took place as organised excursions. Then of course the Yugoslav war broke out in 1991 and it was the late 90s, or even the early 00s, before tourism recovered along the Dalmatian coast. By that time the budget airlines, and the cruise lines, were ready with their offerings.

I also think that in the places where the protests are biggest, there is another factor at play. I know that in the case of Venice many of the local people feel that they have lost control of their environment. This isn’t just because of the numbers of tourists, but because of the structure of local government. Many of these places are quite small – the population of historic Venice is around 50,000, for example – but they are included in larger local government units. For example, the municipality of Venice has a total population of about 250,000, some three-quarters of whom live on the mainland and not in the historic city. The elected officials – especially the mayor, who in the Italian system has considerable power – are likely to draw the majority of their support from outside the historic city, and from areas where the concerns will be different. Residents of the historic city may have a different view on tourism promotion from residents on the mainland, for example, but it is the latter – who make up the majority of the municipality’s population – who will have the major say in decisions. It’s also the case that a crucial player in the Venice infrastructure, the Port of Venice, does not appear to be controlled by the municipality; it’s an independent authority (or so I believe). And of course it, too, is mainly based on the mainland (where there are significant container-handling and bulk cargo facilities), so once again the people most connected with the historic city feel that decisions that affect them greatly are being taken by an entity over which they have little influence or power.

I apologise if this is coming across as rather rambling. That probably results from my own feelings, which tilt back and forwards on this issue. Of course I love going to these wonderful places, but more and more I’m wondering if, or to what extent, my presence (along with that of millions of other people, of course) is damaging the very places I enjoy visiting. It’s a difficult issue, and one on which I’m still undecided. Swithering, as the Scots say.

Holiday perils

This is a sad story:

Sint Maarten jet engine blast kills New Zealand woman

I’ve no idea if the woman who died was a cruise passenger or not, though probably not. But like many others I’ve looked at the YouTube videos of planes landing and taking off from the airfield on Sint Maarten. First just to see how low over the beach the aircraft were as they seemed to float into their landing, then later, I’ll admit, watching people standing in the jet exhausts as the planes took off. I was always aware, of course, that it had to be dangerous, but hearing the shouts of excitement on the YouTube videos somehow negated the obvious risks. “That must be exciting!” I probably thought.

This story is a tragic reminder that danger must never be ignored no matter how exciting it might look. As I say, this accident may well not have been to someone who was on a cruise but there are plenty of activities that cruise passengers undertake that could be dangerous. Please, everyone, take care.

Bergen from Floyen

Almost a week has passed since we disembarked from Azura and it’s time to do a summary of our thoughts on the cruise.

We chose this cruise well over a year ago for two reasons. First was the itinerary which included no less than six ports (out of seven in total) that we had never visited; in fact two whole countries, Iceland and the Faroes, would be new to us. The second reason was that we enjoy Azura – we like the cabins, the balcony size, the fact that you can walk (almost) round the promenade, and the collection of bars and restaurants. So how good were our decisions?

We ended up frustrated by the itinerary – or perhaps it would be fairer to say that we were frustrated by how it happened, day-by-day. Chief among this would have to be the weather. I think we were being realistic in our expectations – you don’t go almost to the Arctic Circle, even in June, expecting high temperatures and unbroken sunshine. We had in fact packed for all eventualities – lights clothes for some sunshine hopefully, but also reasonably heavy fleeces and of course waterproofs. In the end it was the latter that we seemed to need most days. The weather was good for the first two days at sea and we enjoyed the sun on those days, but thereafter the only time we saw significant amounts of sun was in Akureyri. It rained in Bergen and Alesund, it rained and was bitterly cold in Isafjordur, it rained on and off in the Faroes, and it was grey and overcast and not warm at Belfast. Sadly, the overcast & cold theme continued during the last couple of sea days – the first from the Faroes to Belfast, and the second from Belfast down the Irish sea and then around Devon and Cornwall and into the English Channel. I’d been hoping for some warmer weather and perhaps some sun during that day. Didn’t happen. So we seemed to spend a lot of time getting a bit wet and a bit cold.

Then of course there was the missed call at Reykjavik. I’m not criticising the decision to abandon the call because I don’t know the full details nor do I have the requisite knowledge of the requirements. Nonetheless it was disappointing. For us it was just one more port that we’d been looking forward to, but we gathered that for a lot of passengers Reykjavik would have been the highlight of the cruise, and many people were very disappointed indeed. Azura was a pretty subdued ship that day. It didn’t help that because of the high winds, walking round the promenade was cold and windy that day; and it was even more frustrating when the clouds rolled away during the evening and we had that spectacular sunset that night. So during the day the ship was full of disappointed passengers wandering around looking for something to do. (To be fair to the on-board team, they did arrange a programme of events at very short notice.)

We certainly enjoyed the ports that we visited; there was something at each of them that was rewarding. At Bergen we enjoyed walking the paths on Floyen (and I had the quiet satisfaction of getting the pre-cruise Floybahnen tickets right); we were delighted by the architecture at Alesund; we enjoyed the waterfall and the geo-thermal landscape at Akureyri (but were frustrated because we wanted to spend longer); we even found a couple of things at Isafjordur that were good – the photographs in the Library & Art Gallery, plus of course the coffee & cake in the cafe/bar, Husid; the Faroes were delightful, certainly out of Torshavn; and we enjoyed the Titanic experience in Belfast more than we expected. But we found the number of sea days too many – it should have been six but was actually seven, out of thirteen full days. Indeed, we also felt that a fourteen night cruise might itself be a bit longer than we really want, these days – we were ready to get off several days before we actually did so, and I have a feeling that would her been true even if the weather had been better.

As regards Azura itself, we had no complaints. The cabin was perfectly fine, we enjoyed the balcony on the first couple of days, Freedom dining worked well for us, we thought the food in the MDR was good, and as ever we enjoyed the drinks in the Glasshouse and the Planet bar. (And in the Glasshouse we enjoyed the food as well.) We had a couple of meals in Sindhu which were good, but perhaps not great – I think the concept needs refreshing a bit. We didn’t go to any of the shows in the theatre; instead we watched a couple of films in the cabin during the late evenings. We enjoyed a series of talks on ‘Literary Performers’ by Priscilla Morris during the day times, and we also watched a film in the theatre one day. And finally, we were impressed by the hardy souls on sunbeds around the Sea Screen – every time we passed that spot there seemed to be some people there, wrapped up in blankets.

Overall, we enjoyed the cruise – we certainly don’t have negative feelings about the ship or about cruising as a result of this cruise. Would we do a similar cruise again? – I’m not sure, but probably not. I’d love to see Alesund or the Faroe Islands in sunshine but that can never be guaranteed. If we went again, there’s every possibility that we’d simply repeat the experiences of this cruise.

So where does that leave us for future cruises? Well, after two successive years in northern waters we want warmer weather next time. We also think that we don’t want too many sea days, so that points us towards a fly-cruise. So (as I posted previously) we’ve booked a seven-night fly cruise on Oceana for September 2018, to be preceded by a two night pre-cruise stay at a hotel in Malta as part of the holiday. We’re already looking forward to it.