‘By collaborating with the relevant regulatory agencies to establish joint protocols, unambiguous codes of conduct and practices for cruise ship calls, the shipping companies have had a common policy to adhere to, which has facilitated the restart of cruise tourism,’ explained City of Stockholm Planning Commissioner Joakim Larsson, who is responsible for Ports of Stockholm.
Henrik Ahlqvist, sales director cruise, Copenhagen Malmö Port added, ‘It has been both educational and inspiring to work together with Ports of Stockholm and the Port of Gothenburg to facilitate a safe restart to cruise operations in consultation with border police, the respective County Medical Officer, The Public Health Agency of Sweden and the shipping companies.
‘Now we have a very good solution in place and we are very happy to welcome the first disembarking cruise passengers to Sweden.’
Change in habits, preference for open space
‘Even in a future without COVID-19, the cruise industry – as with most other sectors – will be faced with a new normal,’ added Martin Meriwall, cruise operations manager, Gothenburg Port Authority. ‘It is anticipated that cruise passengers will, to some extent, seek out experiences not traditionally associated with cruise tourism – a trend that could benefit Gothenburg as a cruise destination.’
‘We have already seen signs of this shift,’ he continued, ‘many travellers want to avoid crowds and the well-worn tourist paths. Instead they will be looking for novel experiences in more genuine environments, preferably close to nature.’
Trips ashore will follow the ‘bubble’ concept, with passengers travelling in specially chartered buses and adhering to set times for museum visits thus preventing those on board mixing with locals. All passengers will be screened for COVID-19 before boarding each vessel and strict codes of conduct will apply on board ships, which contain fewer passengers.
Gothenburg port refers to this as Step 2 in their roadmap; in Step 3, there will be a return to normal routes, as well as on board capacity. ‘All cruise lines have similar restart plans with an ongoing review of when and how they can move to the next step, which will be governed largely by the infection rate at the various destinations,’ offered Meriwall.
The three ports agree that lines have taken ‘great responsibility’ for establishing transparent and comprehensive rules for cruise calls during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has expedited discussions with ports and regulatory agencies.
‘The fact that our Swedish ports worked jointly from an early stage to develop our plans for how to manage vessel calls and passengers has been a success that we are now reaping the benefits of,’ noted Meriwall. ‘When we in Gothenburg have talked to the shipping companies, their opinion is that we have handled the situation well by continuously adapting our planning and having transparent dialogue to inform the procedures that apply.
‘We also believe that the Swedish agencies have been very accessible and responsive in supporting us.’
The ‘ketchup effect’
On bookings, the Port of Gothenburg claims that the reopening of the German market is having a noteworthy impact. Professes Meriwall, ‘It is something of a “ketchup effect.” As the situation is now, just over 60 ships are planned for calls at the Port of Gothenburg for the rest of the year, but given the situation, it is something that can change at short notice.’
This year, the first cruise ship to arrive in Gothenburg – the largest port in the Nordic region – was Mein Schiff 6 on June 12, which sailed from Hamburg as part of a scenic cruise. ‘Cruise guests had the opportunity to take in the beauty and splendour of the archipelago before turning at the Älvsborg Fortress without actually entering the port, making it an unusual call to say the least,’ concludes Meriwall.
The cruise industry contributes a total economic benefit of €176m to Stockholm and generates 1,100 jobs.