Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

Marseille surfing the cruise ship wave in the Mediterranean

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Wednesday, March 27th 2013 à 18:09 | Read 1060 times

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In two decades, Marseille has gone from a few thousand to one million cruise passengers. This success is due to the total synergy between port professionals, tourism and institutional investors, which are all involved with the Club de la Croisière Marseille-Provence (Marseille-Provence Cruise Club).

Marseille surfing the cruise ship wave in the Mediterranean
 8,548 passengers and 20 stopovers in 1992. 890,000 passengers and 359 stopovers in 2012. In twenty years, Marseille has become an important cruise port in the Mediterranean, and France’s number one in the sector. Or rather, has become once more, as in the last century before their decline, companies such as Chargeurs Réunis, Messageries Maritimes, Paquet... used to serve Marseille’s docks. But the industry was not then familiar with mass production.
Starting from almost zero, port and tourism professionals as well as institutional investors, all gathered under the leadership of the Club de la Croisière Marseille-Provence and its President and Founder, Jacques Truau, have made Marseille not only a must-see destination but also a must-have port of embarkation. The synergy between the city and the people largely explains its success.

Things really took off in 2007. At that time, Marseille registered 436,000 passengers and began its double-digit growth year on year.
54 ships from 26 companies (270 sailings) featured Marseille in their brochure in 2012, and 313,000 passengers (6,219 in 1992) embarked from Marseille with eight cruise operators.

Not resting on its laurels

Naturally, the bride looked beautiful: just three hours from Paris by TGV, with three motorways arriving at the port, a catchment population of one million inhabitants, a revitalised city that is the gateway to Provence, a central, very strategic maritime position just one night’s sail from Barcelona, Savona and Genoa. In short, “a must-do trip on the western Mediterranean circuit to take on the French market”, says Jacques Truau.

Many assets were unveiled during Seatrade in Miami, which Marseille has been participating in since 1994, with a large poster of lavender fields as a backdrop on the stand to attract Americans, to the point that the event made people long to re-locate to Marseille. First with the organisation in Marseille of Top Cruise, France’s annual exhibition for the cruise industry since 2001, but especially hitting the jackpot in 2012! Last November the port city of Marseille scored a major coup by hosting both the 12th Top Cruise Show and Seatrade Med with 3,000 visitors, 151 exhibitors from 69 countries and €2.6 million in economic impact for the city. According to the survey conducted by the CCI Marseille Provence, one visitor in four struck a bargain during this event.
There is, however, no question of the city resting on its laurels. Marseille continues to invest in cruises, which are still a priority for the Port Development Plan 2009/2013. In July 2012, a new terminal was built while the original one, the MPCT, (Marseille Provence Cruise Terminal), now has a 6,000 m² clone at a cost of €6 million. It will be operational in June 2013 with 1,000 additional parking spaces, which are needed to support head end activities and receive passengers arriving by car, in style. In 2013, Marseille will have three cruise terminals.

2013 should also be the year the long-awaited ‘one million passengers’ target is reached. While the Club de la Croisière Marseille Provence is already banking on 1.6 million passengers by 2015/2016.
To give themselves even more advantages as a port of embarkation, Marseille also has ship repairs up its sleeve. An essential card to have in your hand when it comes to attracting cruise ships. “Ships that come to Marseille for repair will come with a stopover upstream and a stopover downstream! They will not arrive empty-handed”, Jacques Truau astutely points out.

And Marseille became a cruise port...
Jacques Truau (photo Club de la Croisière Marseille Provence)
Jacques Truau (photo Club de la Croisière Marseille Provence)
Jacques Truau is the man who has revived cruises in Marseille. A liner Captain from Gascony, he finished his seafaring career at Paquet and then became a pilot boat captain. He has been posted at the CCI Marseille-Provence for the past 25 years and founded the "Club de la Croisière Marseille-Provence", which he chairs. : How has Marseille returned to being a cruise port?
Jacques Truau :In 1992 the president of the Marseille-Provence Chambers of Commerce at the time, Henry Roux-Alezais, asked me as an elected member of that institution to think about a strategy that would improve activity in the port of Marseille. I had three months to prepare a dossier. Within this proposal emerged the development of passenger traffic and in particular of cruise passengers.
Together with the professionals and officials of the area we began by writing a cruise charter. 

The idea was to demonstrate our willingness to develop the cruise market in Marseille with a high quality, reliable service. This charter was sent to all the international operators in April 1993. 

And the companies took it up?

J.T. : Yes, but it was not all plain sailing. The Costa group told us: "even if you offer us stop overs for free, we won't be coming to Marseille". That let the wind out of our sails! The city was suffering from a bad reputation. After a site visit though, they departed convinced about the change in Marseille's image. In 1996 they launched the first batch of stopovers, in the context of departures shared between Barcelona, Marseille and Genoa, on the week long Dolce Vita cruise on the Romantica . This amounted to 25 stopovers and 35,000 passengers. In 1997 the Royal Caribbean and the Splendour of the Seas arrived and then things really got going.

What triggered the move from these two companies to a veritable programme?

J.T. : To be valued in this market and to be seen as a proper port of call for these international companies, we needed to pass the 100,000 passenger threshold. Thus since 1994 we have been exhibitors at the Seatrade convention in Miami. In September 1996 we decided to form the "Club de la Croisière Marseille Provence", with three backers:, the Marseille Provence Chambers of Commerce (CCIMP), the City of Marseille and the Grand port maritime de Marseille. We were quickly given additional support by the professional federations and institutional organisations; all those that had an interest in seeing the cruise market developed. The Club demonstrates the merits of working in synergy.

At the time it was a promotional tool that was unique in Europe and even in the world. We then helped many other port cities to develop their own clubs.

Interview by Frédéric Dubessy

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