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Sharing is caring in responding to local politicians and public opinion

2019 Cruise Europe conference
Port of Zeebrugge and Bruges hosted the 2019 Cruise Europe conference Cruise Europe
A record 180 attended the recent Cruise Europe conference held in Zeebrugge with sustainability being an underlying theme whether related to visitor management in destinations, air emissions or washwater from scrubbers.

The conference was held against a backdrop of recent announcements that some Norwegian ports, Amsterdam and Dublin are facing reduced cruise calls due to local restrictions.

Everyone in the cruise business has a vested interest in educating the wider public beyond uninformed perception, noted the latest edition of Cruise Europe’s Newsletter in a round up of the conference.

Politicians and local lobby groups are causing the industry headaches, it reads.

Assumptions without scientific facts

Cruise Europe chairman Michael McCarthy kicked off the conference by saying: ‘In a lot of ports and regions assumptions are being made without scientific facts, and restrictions being implemented on the cruise lines without proper consultation to back up these restrictions. There is no doubt that cruising is paying a price for its visibility. We need dialogue, answers and common sense as well.

‘For three years the call has gone out quite clearly that we are not being given the information by the cruise lines and CLIA in order to respond to [local and regional] issues. It is getting better but it is very, very far from where we should be. It is good to see CLIA and ESPO representatives here for the first time because we need that cooperation going forward.’

He went on to quote a Rule from the International Collision Regulations 1996 (Rule 7c): ‘Assumptions shall not be made on the basis of scanty information’. At a time when politicians are doing just that, providing the facts has never been more important.

He made a plea: ‘Cruise lines have to share information with us. There is a basket of solutions which, when taken together, can solve the sustainability issues.’

Using cruise ships to tell the story

Captain Hernan Zini, vp worldwide port operations Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, commented: ‘We have an opportunity to creatively use our ships to tell the story and we have a responsibility to do this. We need to make time to educate people.’ Many other cruise line executives concurred, offering to host stakeholders onboard during port calls in an effort to educate.

While Michele Francioni, svp cost optimisation & process improvement MSC Cruises, explained: ‘The biggest challenge overall is uncertainty [vis regulations]. Anything that is not recognised as a single international regulation is a headache.’

On the subject of environmental indices, Steven Young vp port & shore operations P&O Cruises and Cunard, commented: ‘We are not against the concept of environmental indices (EPI, ESI, CSI) but it would be good to have a common standard. I know each Norwegian port is taking a different approach. There is not a great consistency. We don’t have a problem but we need standardisation.’

In the worst case scenario this could mean lines no longer calling either due to cost or simply because the technical requirements to fulfil the regulations are just not possible.

What is clear is that bringing in local/regional regulations and tariffs at short notice is unwelcome. Planning itineraries two to three years out means that all the costings have already been set and the lines are unable to pass on any of the costs to passengers. Zini explained: ‘When we need to make regulatory and tariff changes, we need time so we can make informed decisions for where we can go.’

Zeebrugge and Bruges played hosts

Port of Zeebrugge and Bruges/Brugge played host to the Cruise Europe conference 2019. Held in the port’s new ABC-Tower/multipurpose terminal with AIDAmar alongside, vice president Port of Zeebrugge, Rik Goetinck said, ‘Big or small we all share in the same ambition: to consolidate and increase our cruise business, to create added value for our region. We need to keep abreast of current and future trends.’

This year there are 150 calls and 400,000 passengers expected in the Belgian port which is just 20 minutes from UNESCO World Heritage Bruges.

Cruise executives and media participated in a guided walking tour from Grand Hotel Casselbergh, together with canal boat ride, of the medieval centre of Bruges and which included a visit to chocolatier Dominique Persoone of The Chocolate Line who talked on his life and work interspersed with tasting chocolates as diverse as apero (with vodka, passion fruit and lime) and italiaanse javanais (with fresh basil, sun-dried tomatoes and black olives).

Evening events took place in the Town Hall, Brewery Halve Maan, and the Bruges Concert Hall. The latter was accompanied by a stunning orchestra and soprano as well as a brilliant magician.

Next year Edinburgh will be hosting the Cruise Europe Conference 2020 in mid-March.