(Spain) The economic impact of the cruise industry

In a country where 13% of GDP comes from the tourism industry, to describe it as “adding little value” is frivolous to say the least. Not to mention the enormous lack of knowledge about it that such a statement implies, especially coming from a minister in the Spanish government.

Here we know a lot about firemen who are arsonists. And to put the relevant samples in place would take up this entire tribune. But I am going to focus on just one of the markets that, for Spain, is not only a source of wealth, but the capacity to energise the business fabric is multiplying every year. I am referring to the cruise sector.

Cruise tourism in our country is relatively recent. It has been growing strongly in the last 20 years and has generated development with productive effects in other sectors of the economy.

Photo Reyes
Photo: Reyes

Let us remember that today the cruise industry is contributing a turnover – in Spain alone – of more than 1,300 million euros and employs more than 30,000 people. Barcelona, the Balearic and Canary Islands are among the top 10 in the world. And every year, more than 10 million cruise passengers pass through Spanish ports, almost 30% of them in Barcelona.

Those who, for example, opted for a vacation aboard a cruise ship in 1992, will have seen how they and their fleets have evolved, as well as the land offer associated with them upwards. The big corporations – Carnival, Royal Caribbean, NCL Holdings and MSC – were inclined to “popularize” their brands and decided to offer their customers a diversity of destinations and ships to suit all budgets. They began to “democratize” the industry.

At the same time, the firm commitment to an investment policy, both from the private and public sectors, has been essential for this evolution of the industry in Spain. Between the years 2000-2016 alone, investment in the port system in passenger facilities amounted to 283 million euros and if we add the investments aimed at improving port-city relations, in the same period, another 241 million euros. In addition to the investment in port facilities, which made Spain and its main cruise ports a clear reference point on a global scale, a reduction in port costs due to the use of infrastructures was also achieved in order to be more competitive and the concession period was increased to stimulate private initiative so that these investments could be made profitable.

However, in addition to the actions of a port, in full coordination with the shipping companies and agents, there is also collaboration with the city, which is responsible for regulating the traffic within the municipality and facilitating access by land in the most effective way. The tourist entities, of course, did their job to complete the best land offer when choosing one itinerary or another.

The port of Barcelona, to give an example, is the port of Europe, – surpassing Civitavecchia – with the highest number of passengers and has been occupying the fourth place in the world as a base port, only behind Miami, Port Canaveral and Port Everglades.

More than 3 million people have embarked or disembarked in Barcelona in 2019, which means a greater number of air connections, transport companies, consignment companies, excursion companies, hotel nights before embarking and disembarking, shopping tourism, visits to museums, restaurants and transfers to other municipalities in the territory, to mention just a few of the related activities. More than 9,000 people live from the cruise industry and passengers leave an average of more than 200 euros per person per day in Barcelona.

Not to mention those ports where ships are checked for repairs. The shipyards and their job creation play another very important and fundamental role in the industry in Spain.

The Covid-19, will not escape us, is being lethal for a market in clear ascent and consolidation in the national and international field. A very mature market that continues to gain followers and relevant recognition from all the shipping companies and agents directly and indirectly related to the sector and which, without a doubt, is being one of the big losers.

The American market, which is the strongest and most solid, is dictating protocols in this regard, which Europe is joining, not without its peculiarities. It is becoming difficult to standardise criteria, as each country and each port has characteristics that make it difficult, even more so. And we must add the Spanish recommendations, which have recently come to light and which will have to be made compatible with others. Because a cruise ship does not usually stay in just one country, and strict measures are going to have to be adopted in terms of safety and protection, adjusting to those of each port and city.

What’s going to happen to the protocols? In Spain one? In Italy another? In Croatia? In Turkey? Probably the shipping companies, all of them in very difficult economic conditions, will decide to reduce the itineraries and will therefore opt for less land destinations. Those, more and more, that have agreements with semi-private islands, many of them in the Caribbean, whose market is more winter than summer, can now make them profitable, but there are still many aspects in the air.

Spain – State Ports, Merchant Navy and Foreign Health – has drawn up a Guide to Recommendations for Maritime Traffic, which basically consists of facilitating the adoption of preventive measures on ships and port facilities, aimed at protecting passengers, land-based personnel and crew, and which is specific to each ship, port and maritime station.

These are recommendations on ticket purchase, passenger care and hygiene measures, cleaning and disinfection, air renewal, maintenance of physical distance and other suggestions, which are already generally applied in other areas.

The crews, many of whom are still confined to some ships at anchor or at berth, have had serious difficulties in being repatriated and even in touching land, with whatever measures they may have taken. Many ports have refused to give them shelter and have undoubtedly been the great forgotten ones in this process, which has not yet been completed.

A recent example is what happened with the arrival of the Allure of the Seas in the port of Cadiz. After the initial refusal, already programmed, its authorization had to be rectified a posteriori, where more than 300 people were already on their way to carry out the maintenance and repair tasks of one of the largest ships in the world, with the economic impact that this entails.

In a country where some are disregarding one of our most important assets, Tourism, where our Brand is present all over the world, I do not know if they should start learning that it is not the tourism industry that should be at the level, which it already is, but if it is the decision makers who should be at the level of it. Or at least observe, read and listen to their professionals. Without making too much noise. Because our economy is at stake, gentlemen.

Author: Eva Miquel, El Español