Saturday, May 07, 2016

No Celebrations For Cruise Ships

There were eight cruise ships in port on Tuesday, a record in terms of the number of ships at one time. The president of the Balearic Ports Authority, Juan Gual de Torrella, said that they were happy because this reflected all the work that has been going into promoting this type of tourism. Not everyone was happy though.

Gual de Torrella noted that there won't be many days similar to Tuesday, when there was a total of 22,000 passengers: not a record, as there were 23,000 one day last summer. Of the eight ships, it should be noted that three were at the end of their cruises. Their passengers, both embarking and disembarking, were less likely than the passengers of the other five to have been wandering around the centre of the city. Wandering around and spending, by all accounts, comparatively little.

This was partly because there were coaches whisking passengers off to other parts of the island. The passengers are damned if they do, damned if they don't. If they do go into the city, then there are the complaints about human saturation, a factor that provoked the anti-tourist graffiti. If they don't, then the hostelries complain they're not making enough. No one, apart from the ports authority, seems particularly happy.

Getting hard and fast information about the benefits of cruise shipping for Palma is not easy. There needs to be more systematic evaluation. But according to some numbers from a few years ago - so they will have changed to a degree - the economic impact of cruising for the Balearics as a whole was put at 115 million euros. That's quite a lot of euros, but it was less than for golf tourism and under a quarter of the impact generated by nautical tourism.

The issue of spending by cruise passengers has long been argued about, often on the basis of no more than anecdote. But if a city - and not just the port itself, which clearly has its own benefits - is to admit several thousands of passengers on certain days and fewer on others, then should there not be a realistic and hopefully accurate assessment of the costs and benefits? Rather like statistics for airport passengers, it can seem that all that anyone is interested in are the human numbers (and the number of planes or ships) rather than figures for the costs - services, resources, environment - and for benefits, i.e. the wealth generated.

Tuesday's ships arrived against a background of Barcelona's mayor, Ada Colau, intimating that the city is looking to charge a tax on tourists who don't stay overnight. Among them would be cruise passengers who are currently exempt from paying Catalonia's tourist tax if ships are in port for under twelve hours. The city council argues that there are costs incurred because of cruises, such as those of cleaning, security and general infrastructure, as well as a social cost in terms of the impact on residents.

There was the further background of the announcement by TUI Cruises regarding its ships coming into Palma. What better way of demonstrating TUI's investment in its product and customer experience, the company's statement said, than unveiling a new addition - TUI Discovery - and introducing all-inclusive as standard? This apparent self-congratulation can be interpreted as insensitive. All-inclusive as standard? Would this be beneficial to Palma? There again, here is a tour company which, via its First Choice brand, once promoted all-inclusive hotels with the slogan of leaving your wallet at home, something for which there was an admission that this wasn't terribly sensitive in a BBC documentary about all-inclusives with which I was involved.

Announcements of all-inclusive cruises and record numbers of ships might be cause for celebration where some are concerned, but they are not for others. Given the political and social issues as they obtain at present, it might be wise to quieten the celebratory noises.

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