Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

Cruise ships at anchor in the Mediterranean

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Friday, March 15th 2013 à 11:35 | Read 1141 times

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Tomorrow, the cruise market in the Mediterranean will overtake the Caribbean, which is currently number one. With increasing capacities and an increasing annual presence in the Mediterranean, ships from the main international companies are delighting in this playground, which offers huge room for growth in terms of cruises.

Marseille stands out as the only real competitor to Barcelona and Genoa (photo F.Dubessy)
Marseille stands out as the only real competitor to Barcelona and Genoa (photo F.Dubessy)
January 2012, the Costa Concordia runs aground near the Island of Giglio. The year began badly for the cruise market in the Mediterranean, which had already been disrupted for months because of the Arab Spring. And yet 2012 show an increase in the number of cruise passengers compared to 2011, when 171 ships cruised the waters of the Mediterranean and offered 2,958 cruises.

In 2012, the market generates over 315 000 jobs and over $48 billion of economic benefits annualy.

Of course, there are cruises in northern Europe. But the Mediterranean draws the cruise market in Europe, which has recorded double the number of passengers in only ten years, slowly but surely catching up with this mode of travel for tourists from overseas.

The number reached a record of 6.139 million in 2012, a doubling of the European cruise market since 2004.

Similar to previous years 4 out of 5 Europeans chose to cruise in Europe with the most popular destination the Mediterranean, which saw 3.5 million European passengers visiting the region.

According to a study by the European Cruise Council - the ECC, Europeans are largely attracted by the Mediterranean and islands in the Atlantic (60%). The Caribbean and northern Europe share the remaining 40%. “Although the 2012 results from Italy (9% drop) and Spain (18% drop) were disappointing, reflecting the deteriorating economic situation in those two countries, the 5-year trend in every market remains positive” note the ECC.

Much room for growth

Increasingly bigger boats can no longer overlook the Mediterranean and are taking up their summer quarters there. Every year, there is a large seasonal migration from the American continent to Europe, which sees them crossing the Strait of Gibraltar.
If high season is from June to September, off-season is being extended more and more, just like Mediterranean tourism in general. Even better, relying on the senior market which is attracted by lower out-of-season prices, the majority of owners are not hesitating to not only extend the season, as Costa has done since the late 1990s, but also, from now on, to have a presence throughout the year. A new fact.

And now they attract a clientele primarily made up of Northern Europeans (mainly British and German) but also from North America. The average age has also tended to drop from over 55 years of age in 1990, to 45 today.

The world’s second destination in the sector, after the Caribbean, the Mediterranean market is booming. And, according to the European branch of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) – established in December 2012 on the foundations of the European Cruise Council – the trend is continuing with twenty-four new ships due to set sail between 2012 and 2016 with an additional capacity of 67,000 passengers and an investment of €12 billion.

The European market is also the fastest growing with ratio of 8% per year (5 year annuel average) compared to 6% in Caribbean and the rest of the world.

As cruises represent only 1% of the overall holiday market (compared to 3% in the United States), Europe has huge margins for growth. This is interesting for cruise activity in the Mediterranean, as 65% of the growth in the European market is located right in the Mediterranean.

150 ports to accommodate cruises

2012 show an increase in the number of cruise passengers compared to 2011 (photo F.Dubessy)
2012 show an increase in the number of cruise passengers compared to 2011 (photo F.Dubessy)
Over 150 ports in the Mediterranean basin welcome stopovers from 70 operators. However, not all ports enjoy the same privileges. The main port is still Barcelona, which has 2.4 million passengers alone. It is the hub for all western Mediterranean cruises. Despite a 9% drop in 2012, Barcelona is by far the leading docking port for cruises in Europe and the Mediterranean.

Fifteen years ago, a single competitor, Genoa, tried, if not to steal the crown from Barcelona, then at least to become her rival in the east. But for a few years, another outsider, ideally positioned between these two major ports, is doing more than holding its own: Marseille. Marseille stands out as the only real competitor to Barcelona and Genoa and is playing to its strengths (see box) with another double-digit growth spurt in 2012.

More than the number of calls, the battle is won with head ends, and Marseille is a very strong contender in this with a third of its passengers handled at the point of embarkation. The other important ports, Livorno, Naples, Savona, Piraeus, Civitavecchia and Venice are trying to become essential ports of call on the itinerary. These routes, however, suffer from a serious lack of variety.
The ports furthest east (Venice, Dubrovnik, Piraeus) are trying to provide the link between the western and eastern Mediterranean. In the current configuration, which favours the one-week format, these ports are growing in importance, even if companies such as Costa Croisières and MSC are attempting to launch mini-cruises. Stays from nine to eleven nights allows passengers tired of doing one-week loop circuits, which are quickly over and done with, to be renewed. This also allows cruises to go further (to the shores of the Black Sea or islands in the Atlantic) while still being near a port of embarkation, without travelling (often by air) to another country to set sail.


Mediterranean cruises – an historic winning bet

From the 22nd January to the 22nd March 1891, 241 passengers sailed on board the Augusta Victoria in the Mediterranean. They are considered to be the first ever cruise passengers. The ship's owner (Hamburg America Line - HAPAG) wanted to make its transatlantic liner profitable in the off-season.

However, it would not be until the 1960s that Mediterranean cruises became popular, subsequently developing into a mass market by the mid-1990s with the arrival of the first mega cruise ships. Over the past 25 years, up to the current boom, the market has experienced both ups and downs. "The Mediterranean cruise market grew 3% between 1985 and 1990 only to fall heavily (-45%) between 1990 and 1995, before experiencing high levels of growth: 106% between 1995 and 2000, 55% between 2000 and 2005, and 57% between 2005 and 2009" states a memo published in November 2012 by Plan Bleu. The Mediterranean environment and development observatory does not hesitate to talk of "a greater resilience of the cruise industry compared to seaside tourism" because, at the same time, overall Mediterranean tourism activity (all sectors combined) has stagnated around an average 10% growth since the 2000s.

However, even with significant growth, the Mediterranean cruise market still only represents a tiny fraction of overall tourism activity in the Mediterranean, accounting for 1.4% of international arrivals in 1985 and 1.8% in 2009.
In 2004, there were 2.83 million European cruise passengers. Today the number stands at 6.2 million, representing a third of all cruise passengers in the world. In 2011, the number of passengers embarking from a European port (5.6 million passengers, of which 4.8 million were European) doubled.
The British, German and Italian cruise markets constitute the top three European cruise markets with 1.7 million, 1.38 million and 923,000 cruise passengers respectively. This ranking has remained unchanged for the last 8 years as shown in a 2012 study conducted by IRN Research on behalf of the European Cruise Council (an association bringing together all cruise operators that offer a service on the European cruise market – it became CLIA Europe (Cruise Lines International Association) in 2012). The Spanish cruise market is the fourth largest in Europe with 703,000 passengers, followed by the French cruise market with 441,000 passengers (exactly twice as many as in 2004). The Northern Mediterranean cruise markets (Italy, Spain and France) account for 34% of the European cruise market's passengers.

Frédéric Dubessy


Greek, Italian and Spanish ports are the favourite playing fields
of the cruise lines

The western Mediterranean ports of call, starting with Barcelona, the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands, confirm their success. Disney Cruise Line is targeting Spain in 2013. The Disney Magic will set sail from Barcelona for a four-day cruise. The Carnival Sunshine is also operating in the Mediterranean with a twelve-day cruise departing from Venice.

The charm of the Italian ports still appeals to so many people. One in three passengers cruising the Mediterranean begins their cruise in Italy. Civitavecchia, Venice, Naples, Livorno, Savona and Genoa…these six ports alone welcomed 8.2 million cruise passengers in 2012. This year too they should enjoy a bumper year with just a small fly in the ointment. Following the sinking of the Costa Concordia, a decree now regulates the conditions for sea access to the bay of Portofino.

Many cruise ships will converge on the Greek islands this year, offering cruises to suit all tastes and budgets. MSC Cruises, Costa Cruises, and Croisières de France will all be there.

"Revitalisation is necessary"

Revitalisation is necessary and we have decided to extend the routes for our most seasoned customers. Between 20 and 30% of our customers are repeat customers”, explains CEO, Antoine Lacarrière. In 2013, in the wake of Louis Cruises, CDF is going to offer cruises to the Greek islands of eleven to fourteen nights, departing from Marseille on board the Horizon.

In another category, the Norwegian Jade of Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) will cast off from the city of the Doges for an eight-day cruise around the Cyclades just like the Royal Caribbean International (RCI) Splendour of the Seas. The L’Austral of Compagnie du Ponant is also aiming to exploit the marvels of the Aegean Sea, using Istanbul as its base.

Despite the fragility of the political situation, calls in Tunisia and Egypt have been confirmed. The Horizon will also put in at Tangiers, Casablanca and Tunis from April. “If there is the slightest doubt about safety, we will not go”, tempers Antoine Lacarrière, convinced of the development potential in Israel and Libya.

Nathalie Bureau du Colombier

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