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CTN Investigates: The future of the cruise line and destination relationship

CTN Investigates: The future of the cruise line and destination relationship

Over recent years, cruise lines, industry bodies and destination authorities have been thrust into new ways of working, but how will these relationships evolve? Gary Peters investigates.

It was in the April/May issue of Cruise Trade News that CLIA Europe director general Marie-Caroline Laurent outlined how the pandemic had “forced everyone to speak to each other”, adding: “Suddenly, you had to speak to the local health authorities and the national health minister. Before, there was not necessarily this daily and very intense dialogue.”

For someone looking for potential silver linings from that terrible period, this emphasis on dialogue and collaboration perhaps provides the best example. Never has the art of relationship building and teamwork been more necessary.

While it’s unfair to suggest that prior to this the cruise industry was fragmented in such a way that caused problems, it’s clear that the sector has forged a new path when it comes to how it operates across the entire logistic and supply chain.

“The scale of the global challenge that we all faced together in 2020 was enormous,” says CLIA Europe director of European Government Affairs Nikos Mertzanidis.

“What made the difference was that we did all face it together – cruise lines, city mayors, port authorities, cruise terminal operators, ship agents, and tourism authorities.

“Where previously we may have been sitting on opposite sides of the table, we addressed the common challenge of the pandemic together as partners. We volunteered ideas, shared best practices, and identified joint solutions. We came out stronger as a result.”

Mertzanidis says the situation strengthened mutual trust, with a “collaborative, open-minded way of working”.

Celestyal Cruises working with destinations
Celestyal Cruises’ relationship with destinations has “changed for the better”

Cruise line & destination partnerships

Port Authority of Jamaica cruise shipping and marina operations VP William Tatham echoes these thoughts, telling CTN: “The long-established relationship of trust was called upon with the onset of the pandemic.

“During the period of the no sail order, followed by the conditional sail order, the focus of our engagement with cruise lines moved from one of new business development to that of the health and safety of ships, our terminals as well as the Covid-related protocols.”

According to Eleni Skarveli, the UK & Ireland director at the Greek National Tourism Organisation, the “synergy between cruise lines and destination authorities is crucial”.

She continues: “That is why we are trying to be in a continuous conversation with our cruise partners on how to further improve our relationship and build a successful plan of cooperation.”

The proof is in the pudding, as they say, with Celestyal Cruises chief operations officer George Koumpenas saying the cruise line sees the “evidence of destinations making a huge effort to attract more cruise calls and to maintain and grow relations with cruise companies”.

He explains: “Our relationship with destinations has changed for the better and become even stronger, with both parties really understanding the significance and necessity of collaboration in order to compensate for the lack of cruising over the past two years and the resulting negative impact on the local economies.”

The point that Koumpenas makes on economic impact was demonstrated in January this year, when CLIA’s latest industry outlook report showed that in 2020, there were 5.8 million passenger embarkations (down 81 per cent on 2019 levels), 576,000 cruise-supported jobs, a reduction of 51 per cent, and $63.4 billion in total economic contribution, down 59 per cent against 2019.

At the time of the report’s release, CLIA CEO Kelly Craighead said: “Coastal and maritime tourism is an important economic driver, and we continue to work in partnership with cruise destinations so that communities thrive from responsible tourism.”

Facing up to the challenge

The economic benefit of cruise tourism, is, therefore, clear for all to see. However, in equal measure exists the counterweight to this, one that the industry is no stranger to – the issue of overtourism.

Global Data associate travel and tourism analyst Craig Bradley is forthright in his take on the situation: “Addressing overtourism is a key issue,” he says.

“One of the major challenges facing ports, particularly in Europe, is that many cruises are arriving on the same day. The sheer number of people on these cruises can be extremely high, putting pressure on the destination.

“This could be avoidable if there is open dialogue between the destination and cruise operator. The objective should be organisation and coordination, to ensure the ports don’t get too overwhelmed.”

Jennifer Holland, a tourism and cruise researcher at the University of Suffolk, believes the sector “has not always had a good image with destination communities”, suggesting that “travellers are becoming increasingly aware of the power of their choices and the impacts of their travel behaviour – this is especially true for cruisers”.

As with anything, there is good and bad.

Holland says there have been cases of “poor destination stewardship and unequal economic benefits for the port communities” but adds: “Some ports are fantastic examples of balancing the needs of the local community with the demands of being a busy cruise port.”

Dubrovnik sustainable cruise tourism
CLIA is working with Dubrovnik to establish the city as a model of sustainable tourism

New concepts in cruise

Lines are keen to stress they are aware of the issue, with many bringing in new concepts designed to put destination management at the forefront of what they do.

One example is Fred Olsen Cruise Lines. Its new brand messaging – termed The Olsen Way – includes specific commitments to support and show “respect for the natural world, the people and the cultures in the places we visit”, says the line’s head of itinerary planning and destination experience Martin Lister.

“The smaller size of our ships means that we are visiting with fewer guests, and hence can be less overwhelming in the destination.”

Regent Seven Seas Cruises has introduced new shore excursions called Eco-Connect tours, promising guests the opportunity to “engage with local groups and businesses to learn about how they are working to conserve and sustain their surrounding environment”.

CLIA’s Mertzanidis is also keen to highlight the association’s work with Dubrovnik, mainly through a responsible tourism management plan to help establish the city as a model of sustainable tourism.

Mertzanidis says: “We are moving beyond words and taking action to identify bespoke solutions appropriate for each destination.”

Cruise & destinations: Stronger together

There is consensus that the new ways of working and relationship management established during the pandemic are here to stay, with a common approach now the order of the day.

The Port Authority of Jamaica’s Tatham believes there is scope to “strengthen relationships” between lines and destinations, “with both parties making greater commitments to each other”.

Mertzanidis, meanwhile, outlines: “There are also some basic practical considerations which are essential to the process. An understanding of operational timeframes, for example, is important for planning purposes both for destinations and for cruise lines, which can open bookings long in advance, up to two years.”

It appears, then, that the changes forced upon the sector at the start of the pandemic may only be the start of the transformation in destination relationships and management.

Holland concludes: “The cruise industry needs to do a better job sharing its success stories and the benefits for destinations of hosting ships.

“The lines that do this and are actively trying to be more sustainable will be sought after by cruisers now and in the future.”

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