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Airam Diaz Pastor: 'current crisis as an opportunity to improve and comeback in a more sustainable and environmental-friendly manner.'

MedCruise President Airam Diaz Pastor: Collaboration and coordination crucial to cruising’s successful comeback

During COVID-19 lockdown, many Mediterranean ports are drafting protocols to welcome ships back once cruising resumes, MedCruise President Airam Diaz Pastor told Seatrade in an exclusive interview.

MedCruise represents more than 135 cruise ports and destinations in the Mediterranean and its adjoining seas.

‘Today, more than ever, ports are defending the cruise lines’ interests in discussions with their national authorities and helping them in this challenging period,’ Diaz Pastor noted.

He described how the last month has panned out: ‘Many of our members were working hard in preparation for the start of the Med summer season and looking forward to welcoming a record number of ships, passengers and crew when coronavirus spread across Europe and cruise operations ceased globally.’

Adapting quickly

Diaz Pastor explained, ‘ports soon found themselves having to very quickly adapt to cruise lines’ requests for unscheduled calls, for repatriation of passengers and crew and for lay up berths. In some cases, ports were asked to find solutions within less than 48 hours notice of countries closing their borders.’

He added, ‘as in other regions, the vast majority of our port members depend on regulations issued by their respective Public Health authorities, governing berthing of cruise ships, disembarking of passengers and crew and also the laying-up of vessels.

‘Some national health administrations are not so familiar with the specific workings and regulations of the cruise industry and In some cases, MedCruise ports were able to advise how measures would affect not only the cruise industry but the well-being of passengers and the crew.’

Fast moving situation

Diaz Pastor congratulated MedCruise members for their approach to the fast moving situation and their ability to quickly provide all the services that the cruise lines requested such as the laying up of ships, repatriations and so on.

A survey conducted by MedCruise shows that 63 cruise ships are being laid up in the Mediterranean and its adjoining seas  during the temporary suspension of cruise operations. ‘I believe this is due to the excellent work carried out by our port members and due to incentives and payment delays to help spread the cost for the cruise operators,’ he remarked.

Most MedCruise members are not only cruise ports but also handle cargo. ‘Passenger traffic, including cruise and ferries has been most affected by the current crisis whereas cargo and commercial shipping activities, in the main, continue to operate normally with no restrictions.’

More Than Ever #PortsTogether

During the past few weeks the MedCruise board of directors has met online several times to monitor developments. ‘We are in constant contact with our members, sharing information in both directions as well as working hard to keep to our agenda and actions. In  line with this, we are planning to provide online presentations and webinars to our members, conducting surveys and sharing useful information,’ he said.

Its marketing tag has been adapted to reflect the current situation from #PortsTogether to More Than Ever #PortsTogether.

Lessons learnt

Asked what lessons does he think the cruise lines and ports have learnt about the IMO Maritime Declaration of Health and the WHO International Health Regulations covering international cruises and procedures for berthing ships during these past couple of months, Diaz Pastor responded, ‘ports have shown that we have been able to adapt quickly to the situation and new regulations.’

He believe going forward it will be necessary to exchange information and to engage with all the stakeholders in the industry ‘as we have always done’.

The MedCruise president added, ‘The cruise industry has always known how to adapt to major milestones such as the 2008 Financial Crisis, or geopolitical issues. For instance, after 9/11, the ISPS code was implemented regarding port and vessel security and I am sure that other codes will be implemented after this pandemic, in order to improve operations and safety.’

Cooperation and collaboration

Cooperation with international organisations such as the IMO is more crucial than ever, remarked Diaz Pastor.

Regarding cooperation with other cruise port associations, ‘we have regular online meetings with CLIA Europe and Cruise Europe. In addition, we share information with the European Commission and its working groups and we are collaborating with several national port associations to better understand  the situation in each country.  Cooperation is in the MedCruise DNA,’ he remarked.

MedCruise cooperates also with ESPO Cruise and Ferry Committee and IAPH World Ports Sustainability Program attending their meetings together with our port members.

COVID-19 updates

A new section on the MedCruise website is dedicated to COVID-19 information, as well as a private area for members containing information for them to access permanently.  It is also working together with Cruise Europe on a unified survey to provide the industry with relevant information from ports. latest news regarding cruise line’s suspended activity and when they are planning to sail again is also updated.

According to Diaz Pastor, ‘The return of the cruise industry will occur only through collaboration and the coordination of all the stakeholders. The comeback of the cruise industry will be only possible with the cooperation of the ports, destinations and cruises lines.

‘From my personal point of view, I see this current crisis as an opportunity to improve and comeback in a more sustainable and environmental-friendly manner. The cruise industry will need to adapt to a new age of global tourism, where digitalisation will have a high impact.

‘I am sure that our industry will recover and it is only a matter of time. We are seeing that cruise bookings for 2021 are growing considerably in comparation with previous years. Cruise passengers are showing their loyalty to this kind of tourism, which is one of the strengths of our industry. According to a survey conducted by San Francisco-based research company Destination Analysts between 10 and 12 April 2020, almost 50% of US travellers said they will take a cruise within six months after the current shelter-in-place restrictions are resolved, which for the top cruise passenger source market is very encouraging.’

Seatrade Cruise Med in Malaga

Looking ahead to Seatrade Cruise Med 2020 scheduled to take place in Malaga on September 16-17 Diaz Pastor noted, ‘This will be the major event of the cruise industry in 2020, hosted by our esteemed member the Port of Malaga. We would like to congratulate Seatrade for its diligent work, as well as the host port, in being able to adapt and seeking solutions every day.

‘At the Malaga event we hope by then the cruise industry will come together for the first time since the COVID crisis to debate and discuss the next actions for the benefit of the whole industry.’

Innovating together

MedCruise working together with its members to promote the Mediterranean, Black Sea, Red Sea, Adriatic and near Atlantic as the world’s best cruise destinations are ready to welcome cruise ships and cruise passengers as soon as we get over this pandemic, concluded Diaz Pastor:  ‘We look forward to a new age filled with plenty of opportunities of innovating together and doing things better.’

 

 

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