Archive for the ‘Cruise industry’ Category

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 – 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.

 

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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….)

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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.

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You might have thought that First Class had disappeared with the advent of cruising in today’s purpose-built cruise ships. But while there are different classes of cabin in today’s ships, from Inside to Penthouse Suites, broadly speaking passengers in all accommodation classes, from suites to inside cabins, share the same facilities with each other. In recent years however that has begun to change – on some ships on some lines, passengers can buy what looks quite like a re-creation of the old First Class experience.

One line – Cunard – never entirely went away from First Class, although it didn’t call it that. But if you’re in either of the Grills Classes – Queens Grill or Princess Grill – then you will eat in a dedicated restaurant, and there are some areas of deck that are reserved for you. It’s interesting is that there are two Grills restaurants, Queens and Princess, not just one, so Cunard see some fine distinctions between the two (Queens Grill is for passengers in the very best suites, Princess Grill is for passengers in lesser suites.) And there is one other big difference between today’s Cunard Grills experience and the former First Class, and that’s that Grills class requires a suite-level cabin. In the old days – and not just on Cunard but also on other lines such as P&O and Union Castle – there were some quite low-quality First Class cabins, e.g. small Inside cabins (indeed, there were often a number of better cabins in Second class). But the crucial point was that however poor the cabin if it was defined as a First Class cabin it gave the cabin’s occupants access to all the First Class facilities, whereas the ‘better’ Second Class cabin was definitely in Second class, and the occupants could only access the ship’s second class facilities.

Next is Celebrity Cruises. (more…)

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MSC Meraviglia (image © Seatrade Cruise News)

It’s time to talk about MSC which over recent years has been steadily growing and growing. Last week their latest and largest ship, MSC Meraviglia, was christened at the STX France shipyard in St. Nazaire and handed over to MSC. With a tonnage of nearly 172,000 and with capacity for 4,500 passengers, she definitely counts as a big ship – she’s the ninth-largest in the world at the moment, I gather.

This is all a long way from MSC’s beginnings in the 90s and early 00s when they had a fleet of small, disparate ships. They gave an indication that they were serious about this cruising business when they ordered two new builds, the Lirica class (MSC Lirica and MSC Opera), at just under 60,000 tons, for delivery in 2003 and 2004. When two very-near sister ships became available following the collapse of Festival Cruises, MSC snaffled them as well – these were MSC Sinfonia and MSC Armonia so at that point (2005) they had four smaller but new ships.

Then they started building like there was no tomorrow. First came the Musica class: these were Panamax ships with a tonnage just over 92,000 and a standard passenger capacity of 2500 or so. Eventually there were four in this class – Musica, Orchestra, Magnifica and Poesia, and they were delivered between 2006 and 2010. They also ordered four ships in the significantly-larger Fantasia class – about 137,000 tons and almost 4000 passengers in standard capacity. These were the Fantasia, Splendida, Divina and Preziosa. MSC Divina managed to get herself caught up in all the arguments about Venice – she was at the time the largest ship regularly sailing in and out of Venice. These four ships were delivered between 2008 and 2013, so they overlapped with the Musica class.

Now the first of the Meraviglia class, MSC Meraviglia herself, has been delivered, and she’s MSC’s biggest ship yet. (more…)

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UNESCO currently lists 1052 sites, world-wide, that are officially recognised as ‘World Heritage Sites’. Italy is the current champion nation – it has 51 world heritage sites (the UK and British overseas Territories has 30). One of Italy’s greatest World Heritage sites is ‘Venice and its Lagoon’, and quite right too.

However, there is a process by which a listed site can be de-listed, and the first formal step in this process is an official statement that the site is ‘In Danger’. The Italian government has apparently been on notice for a few years that Venice might be placed on the ‘In Danger’ list. Formal consideration of this was avoided at last year’s meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee thanks to strenuous lobbying by the Italian government to remove the issue from the agenda, but it may be considered at this year’s meeting of the Committee which will be held in Krakow between 2nd and 12th July. The reason for the possible ‘In Danger’ status is the impact of tourism on Venice, and cruise ships are held to be the worst example of tourism in Venice. With the approach of the committee meeting scapegoats are already being sought should the ‘In Danger listing happen, and the cruise industry seems to be first in the firing line.

Regular readers will be aware that I’ve done a number of articles over the years about the arguments regarding cruise ships in Venice. The present position is:

  • ships with a tonnage over 96,000 are prohibited from traversing St Mark’s Basin, which effectively prevents them from getting to the Venice cruise terminal;
  • a maximum of four ships at a time are allowed in the cruise terminal;
  • efforts are being made to find an alternative channel to the cruise terminal that won’t require a transit of St Mark’s Basin. In practice the only possibility is the restoration of an old channel from the mainland shore to the terminal.

(more…)

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