A cruise ship hopping from one port to the next is heavily reliant on the facilities, services and support offered at these stops. At a turnaround port, where ships embark passengers and are provisioned for the duration of the cruise, a cruise ship needs a suite area for customs and immigration, excellent road access for trucks and tankers for bunkering and provisioning, facilities for the removal of wastewater and waste, and facilities for passenger embarkation and luggage transfer. All this requires a proper berth for the ship. Transit ports, where the ship visits as part of the tour itinerary, may not offer berths for larger ships, and may rely instead on tendering services.

In setting up facilities for cruise ships, ports need to realise the standard of the facilities they need to provide. In general, turnaround ports will be fairly fixed because of the logistics of passenger transfer and servicing. Currently there are proposals to develop a new cruise terminal in San Francisco at Piers 27–31. The project, proposed by Farallon Capital Management and Shorenstein Properties, and backed by the city’s authorities, has been well received by the State Lands Commission. A decision is expected in the second half of 2007. The Queen Mary 2 docked at Pier 27 in February 2007.

As far as transit ports are concerned, cruise lines are always looking to keep their itineraries fresh and are actively seeking new destinations to keep their clientele interested. The Korean Government announced in April 2007 that it would build eight wharfs in six ports exclusively for cruise ships by 2020 and also develop cruise tour programmes to allow participants to experience traditional Korean culture on land, such as temple stays, tea tasting and pottery making.

The budget for this is over 318.4bn won ($350m). Korea wants to double the number of cruise passengers visiting by 2011 (in 2006 there were around 34,000 on 67 ships).

ATTRACTIONS FOR PASSENGERS

But what are cruise companies looking for in a port, and what new facilities do these ports need to provide? “The biggest area for the development of new ports is the transit port,” says Captain Gerry Ellis, director of port development at Carnival Cruise Lines. “These are picked because of their attraction to passengers and not for the operation of the ship.”

Carnival looks for attractive tours, but also the ability to get people off the ship and onto these tours efficiently. The cruise operator is attracted to the more well-known transit ports, such as Rome or Venice, which have more to offer – whereas a Caribbean island might only have a limited number of tours or a beach. Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

“There are fewer operational requirements for a transit port, so new ports tend to be transit ports,” says Ellis. “Although after 9/11, when people did not want to fly, we went through a phase where we were opening up a lot of new transit ports, bringing the ships to the people. Passengers didn’t want to fly to Florida, so we opened up turnaround ports in places like Galveston and all around the coast to New Orleans. However, there are now a lot of transit ports opening, and it costs a lot of money to develop them.”

GOVERNMENT SUPPORT FOR NEW POSTS

“It’s a case of making a presentation to the operational and marketing departments of the cruise line, and the marketing department will decide if the port can fit into new itineraries.”

Ellis explains that Carnival does not like to go into any new port where it doesn’t have the full cooperation of the government in developing it. It is worth a government’s while to get involved in development, he says. “From a financial point of view, it is worth it because of the money that the ships will bring in through head taxes and ship fees, and most of all because of the large amount of money spent by passengers. We could be bringing in 500,000 passengers a year.”

Ellis describes how the ports address the impact a large number of passengers can have on a small destination. “A sudden influx of 2,000 to 3,000 people from a ship might make a difference to a small port, but some of the smaller Caribbean island ports have whole economies geared to visiting cruise ships, and their governments have to pay close attention to keeping their port facilities up to scratch to attract business year on year,” he says.

Ellis says Carnival prefers to bring a ship into a proper berth so that passengers can embark and disembark down a proper gangway, and this must be taken into account in the design of new and redeveloped port facilities. Despite this, smaller ports might only run to the provision of attractive tender landing facilities.

SHIP AND PASSENGER REVENUES

Understandably, new ports have big costs. “The cost implications for the cruise ship might include head tax, mooring fees, berthing fees, tonnage taxes, pilotage and tugs,” says Ellis. “As far as the port is concerned, they are receiving money from the ship. In addition, however, there is all the money from passengers. A lot of people book a cruise maybe a year in advance. By the time they take the cruise they have money to spend again, and when they get off the ship they tend to spend well. Ports have to remember this, and there is usually a trade-off between the various charges made to the ship and what the passengers will spend and push into the economy.”

As cruise ships get bigger, the strain on ports is likely to increase, so they need to adapt. Royal Caribbean’s first Genesis class will be the largest passenger ship afloat when it is launched.

“Obviously there are not many ports that can berth very large ships, and then the tendering facilities become very important, with tenders with a capacity of 50–100 required,” says Ellis. The last port Carnival was involved in of this size was Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos islands. Here there is a two-berth pier, which can accommodate two super post-Panamax ships.

GETTING ONTO AN ITINERAY

New ports open up to attract revenue, but finding cruise operators willing to add them to their itinerary can be tricky. “It’s a case of making a presentation to the operational and marketing departments of the cruise line, and the marketing department will decide if the port can fit into new itineraries,” says Ellis. “Then the operational department can determine if the facilities are up to the task. Smaller ports can attract smaller niche cruise lines and co-operate with the cruise line to tailor the cruise product to the passengers.”

Juan C Trescastro, vice-president of land operations and guest port services at Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, has voiced similar opinions about port development. “Usually, with seven nights or less, we will provision once on the main turnaround day,” he says. “If it’s longer than seven nights, we will do the main provisioning on the turn day and then we’ll do what we call a ‘top off’ for perishable items.”

As Ellis points out, suitable ports need to be available on the itinerary. “Of course, you have to find a port where you can dock, and it has to be able to receive containers and take the container to the ship,” he says. “It will also need substantial manpower, because porterage is needed to get all that product onto the ship.”

How should ports make themselves more attractive to cruise companies? “One of the things ports need to do is maintain a low level of operating costs for the cruise lines, because when we bring guests ashore they spend about $1.5–2m in the local community,” says Trescastro.

“We need to reevaluate what we’ve been doing, start to update and modernise and offer the guests more to do.”

However, if ports become expensive, cruise operators will start to look for alternatives. “Alaska introduced a $50 head tax and the guests ended up paying for it,” Trescastro adds. “When ports are looking at levying taxes and fees, they have got to think about their end goal. Does the community benefit from the cruise ship visiting or are they going to make it so expensive that the cruise lines go elsewhere.”

Undoubtedly investing in ports is a great long term-investment. “We plan our itineraries 24–36 months ahead, so we know right now where we are going to go in 2009,” says Trescastro. Ports are then guaranteed business for that period. If the relationship between port and cruise operator is good and the costs under control, there is no reason for the lines to change.

NEW OPTIONS FOR CRUISE LINES

As new ports open, cruise lines are starting to re-assess their options, so existing ports have little time for complacency. “A lot of ports become stagnant,” says Trescastro. “We need to reevaluate what we’ve been doing for years, start to update and modernise and offer the guests more to do.”

Once a guest has visited a port where there are limited things to do, they are not going to want to go there again. “We average around 35–45% repeat guests, so we have to keep the cruise product fresh so people keep coming back,” says Trescastro.

With both established and new ports facing challenges, a focus on what passengers want, as well as what cruise ships find most economic and convenient, is clearly required.