It has been almost nine months since the pier Adossat de Barcelona, the first port in Europe and fourth in the world in this type of trip, does not host a cruise ship loaded with tourists. The sector is now demanding to operate again and warns of the “real risk” that other European ports “take the lead” in Barcelona. “There are many destinations that aspire to the competitive position of ports such as Barcelona, the first port in Europe. It has taken a lot of work to locate it in this place and it has always been in a hard fight with others like Genoa or Rome“, explains the director of the International Cruise Lines Association (CLIA) Spain, Alfredo Serrano.
The cruise ships stopped operating in March after the outbreak of the pandemic. Since the summer, some European countries – “traditional competitors” – gradually returned to activity applying new protocols to prevent contagion. In Spain, the Spanish government maintained the suspension of activity after the state of alarm and, at the end of June, it approved a provision prohibiting international cruise ships from entering Spanish ports.
“We are in a critical situation. We do not have customers, we do not have product and the one we had sold since March has been canceled “, explains the general director of Miramar Cruises, Hugo Iglesias. The sector, according to the ACN, demands that the administrations return to the activity as soon as possible and establish a “clear” framework for the entire State to alleviate the loss of 90% of turnover. “The cruise is the safest way to make a trip,” says Iglesias. Count that these ask for a negative PCR to be able to enter and, inside the ship, it is “very controlled”, with capacity reductions of 70% and bubble groups for excursions.
Many shipping companies are trying to revive the market in the short term offering reservations that allow money back in case of cancellation. Promotions are also the order of the day, with prices and gift packages.
The Spanish ban on receiving international cruises has as Canary Islands exception. The TUI Cruises shipping company began operating on the islands on November 6 with a circuit through the archipelago. A week later, the ‘Mein Schiff 2’ finished its first journey, with 860 passengers on board and without any type of health incident. The ship will continue the routes until March 12, 2021, with embarkation and disembarkation on Fridays in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
Only provisioning in the Catalan capital
The activity of the Port of Barcelona, on the other hand, continues to stop. Its president, Mercè Conesa, has asked the health authorities to propose a “realistic calendar” for resume cruise activity. Conesa has admitted that the sector is going through a “delicate” moment and has recalled thatThe fall in passengers in the aggregate of the year exceeds 80% and only the minimum passage is maintained in the ferris that connect the Catalan capital with the Balearic Islands and Italy. In fact, since the first state of alarm was approved, practically no more cruise ships have arrived in Barcelona, except for provisioning operations and only with the essential crew. In merchandise, on the other hand, the decrease is more moderate and stands at around 20%.
In 2019, this infrastructure generated 9,000 jobs in Barcelona, with an annual turnover of 1,083 million euros and a contribution of 562 million to the Catalan economy.
In Tarragona, this year’s cruise season had a single stopover, that of the ‘Marella Dream’ (TUI UK) on March 5, with about 1,500 passengers on board. Since then, the covid-19 has prevented the port from achieving the 100,000 travelers expected for this year and the Royal Caribbean company – which had to be the great novelty of the season – from taking 21,000 passengers to Tarragona divided into five stopovers. Despite the uncertainty in the sector, the President of the Port of Tarragona, Josep Maria Cruset, advances to the ACN that the level of reserves for the next season is at this point comparable to what was now a year ago for 2020. “This proves that there is good musculature and that there is courage to resume activity in this sector,” he says. . According to Cruset, the Tarragona port already has stopover reservations for the months of March and April. If the season did not suffer unforeseen events, the record figure of 128,000 cruise passengers in 2019 could even be exceeded, with an economic impact of 9.7 million euros.
During the stoppage, the shipping companies have taken the opportunity to adapt the ships and to make the necessary maintenance investments that allow them to operate again as soon as the restrictions are lifted. In the Tarragona terminal, Cruset points out, they have “everything prepared” for months to be able to open when possible, with new itineraries and passenger and luggage circuits to comply with health regulations. They are waiting for the regulations that will allow traffic to resume. The port would welcome rapid tests on the passage.
As he relates, in return the absence of cruises due to the pandemic has allowed speed up the expansion works of the Balears dock, They will be completed in May 2021. The action, with an investment of 30 million euros, consists of adapting a 700-meter berthing line that allows the simultaneous arrival of several large cruise ships.
The sector puts the batteries
At the same time, the sector is looking around the world for alternatives to survive the crisis caused by the pandemic. Since early November, Singapore has been offering pilot “to nowhere” cruise trips, departing and ending in the same city, such as the World Dream cruise, two or three nights on board. In Spain, an option to reactivate the sector is the commitment to state cruises. Until now, these types of trips have not been “attractive” from a commercial point of view and they are not practical either. However, they currently represent an option. “We want there to be more national cruises, but we understand it as a step towards the restoration of normality,” Serrano said.
The insularity of the Canary archipelago facilitates this possibility. In other cases, such as a possible Mediterranean cruise, the need to negotiate with several autonomous communities could make it difficult for companies to act.
In any case, Spain’s situation contrasts with other countries such as Greece or Italy, where cruise ships have already started operating. “If there is a country that takes the lead with a clear normative or regulatory framework, and others like Spain that do not, you give priority to the one with the least difficulties “, has expressed the director of CLIA Spain.
In this sense, the CEO of Miramar Cruises has demanded a line of “urgent” aid before 80% of travel agencies are forced to close. “Cruises have always been the ugly duckling of tourism with the issue of pollution, the tourist pressure it exerts on cities and very low average spending. They are smears that make the sector suffer, and much more in a context like the current one, “Iglesias lamented.