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Cruise Britain members share 2024 plans, aspirations with cruise lines

PHOTO: HOLLY PAYNE Cruise-Britain-2023-winter-event.jpg
Top row: Ian McQuade opens the 2023 Cruise Britain winter event in London; Gary Hall hosts a quiz. Bottom row (clockwise): Louis Colpitts painting; cruise line representatives Matthew Ducharme, Odette McFarlane, Tom Batchelor and Eithne Williamson
30 cruise line executives representing 17 brands joined Cruise Britain members in London on Thursday to hear ports, destinations and service providers share their plans for 2024. 

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Cruise line representatives join ports, destinations and service providers at Trinity House, London

‘Watch this space’ stated Ian McQuade, chair of Cruise Britain and GM, Portland Port. Launching the association’s annual winter gathering at Trinity House, London, he said 2023 showed ‘a return to business as usual,’ exceeding 2019 figures by 10%. ‘It’s been a good year, we’re looking forward to a strong year in 2024,’ he added.  

Possible challenges 

As well as noting some of the association’s 2023 highlights, including ‘a busy and successful Seatrade Europe in Hamburg’ and Cruise Britan's summer event aboard Regal Princess in PortlandMcQuade recognized some ‘potential challenges’ – plans to introduce a cruise tax in Scotland, possible impacts arising from EES and ETIAS, and the journey to reaching net zero, among them. 

Brings £9.4b to UK economy 

Last year saw the creation of the Cruise Industry and Government Forum – chaired by the DfT and Cruise Lines International Association UK – whose aim is to develop a successful and sustainable cruise industry, with Cruise Britain one of its members. 

In a keynote speech, the UK Department for Transport’s director of maritime, Petra Wilkinson, outlined the department’s three main considerations: economic impact, people skills and safety, and the environment. 

When it comes to people and skills, ‘cruise has long been a sector committed to training’ observed Wilkinson. ‘Improving careers in maritime is essential.’ DfT aims to create more upskilling and training opportunities for the maritime sector and is allocating significant funding towards cadet training. 

On the environment, she added, ‘It’s great to see cruise helping to lead the wider maritime sector’s decarbonisation conversation.’ Last year, £206m (‘the biggest ever British investment in domestic maritime’) was announced to establish the UK Shipping Office for Reducing Emissions (UK SHORE), a new DfT team focussed on decarbonising the maritime sector. It aims to help accelerate research and development into clean maritime technologies and support skilled jobs across the country. Wilkinson noted the importance of skills to support a green maritime industry, including for refit and repair work.

The cruise industry reported a 50% rise in cruise passenger numbers during the first half of 2023 compared to the same period in 2019. Wilkinson said that pre-pandemic, cruising contributed £9.4b directly and indirectly to the UK economy in 2017, the DfT recognising the industry’s ‘significance, importance and economic impact.’ 

Music, poetry and art

In a Cruise Britain Lightning Showcase, 90 seconds was allocated for each port, destination or service provider to convey their 2024 plans. 

Focusing on 2023 instead, cruise operations manager Louis Colpitts took an artistic approach to the task, painting the number of cars parked by SCH Cruise & Passenger Services this year: 122, 873.

Uber Boat’s head of sales, Alison Murphy, and head of fleet logistics, Craig Brown, sang a rendition of ‘The 12 Days of Christmas,’ while Cruise Belfast’s commercial executive Gary Hall was among those to host a quiz. 

McQuade urged cruise lines not to forget Portland, as he showed illustrations of Portland and Portland Port, accompanied by distinct music. 

New for 2024

Harbour master at ABP Port of Southampton, Steve Masters, said next year there will be ‘bigger emphasis on sustainability.’ InterCruises’ head of Northern Europe, Simon O'Sullivan, and commercial development manager – Northern Europe, Janine Moore, said the ground handling and port agency would also continue to improve on sustainability, while showcasing its National Geographic Day tours. 

Portsmouth International Port’s head of cruise & ferry, Andy Williamson, and environmental & sustainability coordinator, Eleanor Toyer, spoke about the port’s shore power projects. 

Plans are moving forward at Plymouth’s Millbay Docks. Plymouth’s port and waterfront are set to benefit from almost £20m as part of the UK Government’s Levelling Up fund. Glen Gardner, cruise BDM & sustainable tourism PM, Destination Plymouth, discussed some of the planned multi million pound investments, including improved access into the city at West Bay, extending pontoons, and shore power for cruise ships and ferries. 

Gardner, who is also cruise business development adviser at Cruise English Riviera, said funding is on the way to enhance some of the English Riviera’s facilities. Air shows and an Agatha Christie festival are part of next year’s highlights. 

International Friends, which specialises in pre- and post-cruise experiences, aim to work with more sustainable businesses. They will offer private tours at the Tower of London before opening time or a private tour of Westminster Abbey. An exclusive Harry Potter Studios tour will be added, plus wine tasting in Kent. 

Cruise Wales and Guernsey are introducing new tours, too; more food and eco tours are being formulated by the latter, which will host a familiarisation trip in the year ahead. Fowey – which now accepts vessels up to 240 mtr – has numerous activities, launching a new experience where passengers can make their own alcohol from potatoes. 

Larger ships are expected to make their way to the Isle of Man next year, which will implement measures to make tendering easier for smaller ships, too. Dartmouth is creating a new mooring to facilitate large cruise ships, and Cowes Harbour is working on a proposal for a 200 mtr anchorage – up from 150 mtr – by 2025. 

More plans are expected to be revealed about Belfast’s new cruise berth facilities at D3, as part of its long-term plan to facilitate growth in cruise traffic. Peel Ports, which handled 89 cruise calls in 2023, has ambitions to grow that number in 2024. In partnership with Inverclyde Council, it completed a new 200 mtr floating pontoon this year in Greenock, at the site of a new £20m cruise visitor centre.

In addition, SMS Towage, which claims to have the youngest tug fleet in the UK, will gain another tug in Q2 2024. Boluda Towage’s ​​commercial area manager David Slater said the company is in the process of acquiring Smit Lamnalco, which will bring its total number of tugs to 600, and working on the development of electric tugs. A new app, which shows data for the number of cruise calls, passengers, pallet count, number of bags (inc. average bags per minute,) and more, is being launched by Solent Stevedores. 

Port of Aberdeen, Akorn Destination Management, Great Yarmouth, Harland & Wolff and Peel Ports are new to Cruise Britain in 2023. 

Feedback from cruise lines

'Ive learnt a lot… it will help the guest experience from all sides,’ stated Royal Caribbean Group’s manager, port Services, EMEA, Matthew Ducharme. Princess Cruises VP UK & Europe Eithne Williamson told Cruise Britain members, ‘We can’t do it without you, thank you so much.’ 

‘We hope to bring Scenic to the UK more often,’ announced Tom Batchelor, director of port operations - ocean, Scenic & Emerald Cruises, who described the speakers’ passion reflected Scenic’s own passion for cruising. 

‘There is so much we should be proud of in Britain,’ added Carnival UK Director Home Ports Odette McFarlane, describing destinations in Britain as all ‘uniquely different.’ She added, ‘We should all be very proud of what we do.’ 

Food, drink and live music at The Brewery, Chiswell Street, London, concluded the winter gathering.