Two Italian, two French and two Spanish small to mid-sized ports, collectively known as the Boutique Ports project, formed two years ago to present alternative West Med themed cruises.
The ports involved in this initiative are Palamós and Mahón (Spain), Nice and Sete (France) and Portoferraio and Porto Torres (Italy).
‘We decided to cooperate and find synergies among the ports in order to create some new themed cruises as it’s not easy to make your mark as an individual small port,’ remarked French Riviera’s Anne-Sophie Peyran at the MedCruise General Assembly in Gibraltar.
A newer initiative but similar to the Boutique Ports skin, said Balearic Islands’ Jorge Nasarre, launched last year focussing on the islands of the West Med. Four ports of Alghero in Sardinia, Ajaccio Corsica, Messina Sicily and Mahon in Minorca provide a common but at the same time different small port experience.
‘All are embedded in towns and have a common history,’ said Nassare who showed a well-made video highlighting the six ports offering an insight into the origins of civilisation with themed cruises based on heritage, nature and gastronomy. ‘We are trying to give cruise planners some ideas of what can be found on these islands,’ he said.
Several West Med French port networks and cruise clubs are established and working very well and there is talk of more and greater co-operation across the region, ‘as we have matured as individual brands and grown our business,’ Var-Provence’s Anne-Marie Blum explained to Seatrade Cruise News. For example, for the first time this year, seven regional ports and cruise clubs will exhibit together under the French Med Ports pavilion at Seatrade Europe in Hamburg in September, 2017.
Turning to the Adriatic, Bojan Babic from Kotor put forward a question whether the Adriatic and Ionian ports - which number 30 across six countries - might not group together to create a marketing and promotional grouping as the Boutique Project or islands’ West Med initiatives.
‘The Adriatic is facing a challenge with less cruise traffic now than the totals of 2012/13 as it has been hit in the last five years by the “Venice effect” and the loss of larger ships calling there,’ he remarked.
Babic reminded a lot of money has been invested in the Adriatic port infrastructure in recent years and with ten big ports, ten medium sized and ten small it is a good mix to cater for all ship sizes.
Disney Cruise Line’s marine ops manager Paul Britton remarked, ‘MedCruise does a great job in promoting smaller ports to the cruise lines but North American consumers may not know some of the smaller Med islands for example, but when they go they really love them.’
Claudius Docekal, vp Crystal Cruises concurred, ‘for North American passengers you need marquee ports in the itinerary’ yet James Langley, head of marine ops at Saga Cruises said, ‘knowing the cruise line passengers is so important as my marquee ports may be different to Paul’s [Britton] and right now for Saga passengers, boutique is on trend.’
Figen Ayan, representing Istanbul, was asked if a local ports initiative might help the East Med through its current crisis. ‘I think we need a networking cooperation between the Aegean, Turkey and Black Sea ports now more than ever,’ she replied.
Staying hopeful and confident of the East Med’s ability to bound back, Ayan said, ‘If calls in the Aegean are sustaining then one day the ships will come back to Turkey and the Black Sea and being at MedCruise has given me an energy.’
She added, ‘I cannot see the end of the tunnel for another year but hopefully in 2019/2020 calls will return.’