Operators from both sectors encourage the creation of such a platform in Europe to make the best use of available port and tourism resources.
This message was conveyed yesterday at Seatrade Europe (September 6-8.)
The operators also desire faster confirmation of berth reservations, while ground and tour operators urge ports to share the reservations further in advance to facilitate capacity planning.
Staffing increasingly difficult
The call for a platform coordinating port calls was voiced at the prior Seatrade Europe in 2019 – at that time, mainly to avoid over tourism in certain marquee ports.
Scarce human resources since the pandemic have turned this into an even more pressing issue. ‘People are everything,’ Christopher Blanchard, executive VP at SMS International Shore Operations pointed out, adding that staffing has become very challenging, especially in Northern Europe.
Speaking at the 'Streamlining Port Operations' panel, Blanchard in particular cited HR bottlenecks among bus drivers and security staff. He called on service providers to work and support each other in case of shortcomings to ensure the overall quality of port calls. Blanchard also suggested that ground operators cross-utilise employees in various ports, particularly in order to staff ports which are operational seasonally to cruise ships, sometimes just for a few months of the year.
While such approaches may help to avoid shortcomings, a more even distribution of calls would ensure a steady-going utilisation of the resources available, although several speakers said the direct coordination of calls between cruise operators is difficult, mainly due to competition.
Platforms, including one established by Cruise Norway years ago, could help to bypass these concerns and support itinerary planning. Royal Caribbean Group's director of port services, Lotfi Trabelsi, expressed support for such an approach. At the same time, he called on ports to come forward and communicate clearly what they can and can not do.
MSC Cruises' VP global port operations, Capt. Pier Paolo Scala, outlined the importance of liaising with local destination stakeholders early in order to ensure they are prepared for a cruise call. This can, as he outlined, even include calls to local retailers to increase their stock in preparation for a visit from a large vessel. According to Scala, stakeholders in less frequently called ports often underestimate the purchasing power for local services and products brought by a large ship carrying thousands of passengers.
More intense communication from ports to benefit resource planning
The idea of a platform coordinating port calls also found support from port operators. Roma Cruise Terminal's GM, John Portelli, said that a platform covering Italy's cruise ports could effectively support cruise lines. Stressing that planning and communication are key to a smooth call, Portelli – who expects Civitavecchia to receive three million passengers this year – said Roma aimed to confirm incoming berth requests within 48 hours to support cruise lines’ itinerary planning. In addition to the rapid communication, Portelli advocated transparency, particularly in relation to port tariffs which should be clear and free of surprises.
PWL Port Services' MD and the moderator of Thursday's session, Alexander Napp, called on ports to make the list of cruise calls available to their local ground operators further in advance to facilitate resource planning.
Concerns over staffing for river cruise
HR capacity bottlenecks are not only concerning the ocean sector: Speaking at Seatrade Europe's River Cruise Day, the owner of Tourismus-Training SF and DonauGuides, Sebastian Frankenberger, highlighted the shortage of local guides. As a result of the pandemic, many have left the market to seek other employment with up to 50% of the respective capacities lost in some regions. As the training of new guides is often tightly regulated, Frankenberger said that the lead time for new guides to become qualified and ready for action can be up to two years. Winning new people as guides is thus a top priority on the to-do list of river cruise destinations – just as it is for conventional cruising.
As an additional challenge, river cruise operators suffer from a significant shortage of bus drivers in several European countries. Frankenberger said that, while the buses are often available, people who drive them are not. Initiatives are underway to find new drivers; coach operators sometimes offer thousands of euros in reward if a new driver is brokered to them.