Mediterranean cruise traffic is forecast to inch up 2 percent in 2010 over 2009, reaching nearly 3.6 million passengers, according to Cruise Industry News.

Speaking at the recent Medcruise general assembly in Monaco, the port organization's president, Giovanni Spadoni, who is also technical and commercial manager for cruise, and passenger terminal operator at the port of Livorno, said that the Western Mediterranean is maintaining its traffic level thanks to winter cruises; the Adriatic will see an increase due to more berth capacity in Venice; the Eastern Mediterranean will see modest growth; but the Black Sea will see a decline.

The Mediterranean cruise industry is driven by a combination of more homeports, longer seasons and winter cruises, Spadoni said, noting that the so-called "dead season" is getting shorter. Spadoni also cited several examples of new homeports, including Monaco and Livorno. While Monaco homeports several luxury vessels, both ports will also have partial embarkations by Costa Crociere and MSC Cruises.

Other efforts underway by MedCruise, which has some 54 full members representing 76 ports in 20 countries, include benchmarking, or sharing of best practices, setting quality standards for services and a transparent cost structure.

According to cruise line executives attending the assembly, issues needing to be addressed ranged from improved parking for coaches to basic services, such as public rest rooms, and the removal of compulsory fees for services that often are not needed, such as tug boats.

Sometimes there are also too many decision makers, creating conflicts, and ignoring or voiding agreements that have already been made.

Some port executives said that their problems include too many ships on some days and no ships on other days, and also that they would like to see calls booked further out, which would allow them to better schedule the cruise traffic.

With new and bigger ships, port congestion is becoming less of an issue, according to Spadoni, since there are fewer ships to berth.

The MedCruise meeting was officially opened by Prince Albert II and Aleco Keusseoglou, president of Monaco Ports.

Port Strategies

Monaco expects 260 calls in 2010, according to the managing director of Monaco Ports. Of those, more than 80 will be turn-arounds, compared to 36 this year. Borea said he is focusing on luxury ships and on building turn-around business. Cruise calls will have a 50 million euro impact on Monaco this year.

Monaco installed a semi-floating pier structure in 2003 that allows ships up 300 meters in length alongside. The largest ship to have called is the 130,000-ton, 3,650-passenger Carnival Dream. The 352-meter long, 160,000-ton structure, which also serves as breakwater protection for the Hercule (yacht) harbor, has four parking levels below the main level, terminal facilities, welcome center and security. Ballast tanks ensure that the pier stays level.

For Livorno, Spadoni said passengers are sourced from the region, but that the nearby Pisa airport also draws fly-in passengers, mostly from Germany so far for MSC.

MSC started its partial embarkations on Wednesdays this year, and Costa will start next year, Spadoni said. MSC embarks 600 to 700 passengers, he said, expecting similar numbers for Costa.

The port's long-term objective is to develop more turn-around traffic.

Livorno recently set a new record with seven ships in port on the same day. Most passengers travel to Pisa or Florence, while Spadoni said he would like to see more passengers visiting the town of Livorno as well.

In other port news, Haluk Sayman, director of the port of Alanya, proposed an itinerary alternative that would circle the Eastern Mediterranean, calling in the Turkish port of Alanya, in Syria, Israel, Egypt, Cyprus and/or in the Greek islands. He said a ship could most easily homeport out of Cyprus. Sayman said Alanya was sheltered and ideally located on what he called the Turkish Riviera, and that the prevailing winds from the northeast were calm, also during the winter. Alanya can also homeport ships, however, being 125 kilometers from an international airport.

In Portugal, Lisbon is building a new pier, slated to be ready in Q 1 2011, with a new terminal to be completed by 2013. The new facility will be linked to the existing terminal, said Manuela Patricio, director of the port's cruise and nautical department.

Lisbon is projecting 430,000 to 435,000 passengers on 311 calls for 2010, up from 294 calls and 410,000 passengers in 2009.

The AIDAbella will be calling in Lisbon during the winter season 2010/2011, sailing from the Canary Islands.

Also in Southern Portugal, Portimao has doubled its cruise traffic year-over-year with 42 calls and 30,000 passengers. Calls are presently limited to ships up to 2 I 5 meters, but there are plans to dredge the turning basin and build a new 700-meter long pier and terminal, which are both expected to be ready in four years. The new facilities call for an investment of 50 million euros.

Other projects in Portimao include the construction of movie studios for CBS and Paramount, in addition to a new sports complex for football (soccer). Portimao also features a variety of nature experiences, golf and a state-of-the-art race track.

Venice is continuing to develop and expand its cruise facilities, including the conversion of existing warehouses into passenger terminals and lengthening of existing piers. Dredging will also allow the port to accommodate larger ships up to 335 meters, according to Francesco Drigo, commercial manager of Venezia Terminal Passeggeri.

The 2010 traffic forecast is for 535 cruise calls, a 7 percent increase over 2009, and 1.6 million cruise passengers, in addition to some 400,000 on ropax and hydrofoils.

In Malta, VIS ET, which runs the Valletta cruise terminal, is in the process of recruiting a new international business development manager, who will be responsible for continuing the destination's growth, said John Portelli, CEO.

SETE is hoping to rebuild its cruise traffic, which has seen only 10 calls this year, compared to a recent high of 35, said Henri Cournon, commercial manager. Noting that Sete is called little Venice, Cournon said the port was ideally positioned only a short sailing distance from both Barcelona and Marseille.

Toulon is marketing its Var Provence Cruise Club(association) with nine other smaller ports in the region, including St. Tropez, but Toulon is the only port where ships can dock, according to Delphine Beudin, cruise promotion manager. 

Cruise Line Input

Despite expected fuel cost increases driven by a higher prices and better grades of fuel, itineraries are not likely to change dramatically in the Mediterranean in the foreseeable future, according to Elisabetta de Nardo, manager of port operations for Costa, who spoke at the general assembly.

De Nardo said that so far fuel cost increases are not having a significant impact on itinerary planning for 2011 and 2012. The cruise vacation concept is based on ports, she said, and fewer ports will be perceived by the customer as offering less value. She said that shorter itineraries and fewer ports would be less attractive.

Costa Crociere will see a 1.6 percent increase year-over-year, despite a new ship and full year programs of one of two ships introduced in 2009, because of deployment changes and the Europa leaving the fleet.

MSC Cruises will have a 3.7 percent increase driven by a new ship and more cruises by other ships, offset by a longer Caribbean season and drydock; and Royal Caribbean International, 3.2 percent from the addition of a larger ship, offset by a shorter winter season.

Louis Cruises is up 11.6 percent, driven by a new ship, more cruises and longer seasons; Thomson Cruises, 40.3 percent, with an additional ship and more cruises; Norwegian Cruise Line, 19.3 percent, with year-round cruising and a longer summer season; AIDA Cruises, 2.6 percent, with more ships; P&O Cruises, 0.5 percent; and Princess Cruises, 17.3 percent, with two more ships and more sailings.

Carol Marlow, managing director of P&O Cruises, said that the cruise line is doing "everything it can to minimize fuel consumption. Slowing down ships is one way to save fuel, but you cannot slow down and offer as many ports. Passengers want a certain number of ports, which is part of the experience," she added.

"We need a good mix of ports with a geographic fit, bookable far in advance. Embarkation must be safe and secure, easy and seamless, and of cost effective quality," Marlow said, pointing to what she called helpful port developments in Lisbon, Livorno and Venice.

As for shore excursions, Marlow said P&O needs a variety of places to see - historical sites, places of interest, places of relaxation and places for shopping. Special openings of museums, private art showings, and similar access are events that people will remember, she said.

Care Team

Marlow said that since 2007, Carnival UK has landed 1,800 passengers across 300 ports for medical care ashore - less than one tenth of one percent of the passengers carried, but still vitally important. On the average, each person spent 8.5 days in medical care before being able to travel home. They are probably scared, Marlow said, adding that the agents become the line's link to the passengers, and that ports also have the ability to contribute in a positive way to make a difference.

Carnival UK has a care team available 24/7. Simple passenger needs will be settled immediately, while larger needs are discussed with the agent and the insurance carrier. In 20 l 0, Carnival UK plans to issue cost and reimbursement guidelines.

Epic to Europe?'

Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) will have 15 percent of its passenger capacity in Europe in 2010, compared to 13 percent this year, according to company President and CEO Roberto Martinoli, who also said that North American passengers make up 83 percent of NCL's ticket revenue. The Jade sails year-round from Barcelona, but Martinoli said NCL will also consider new embarkation points in the future, including Monaco.

NCL expects to carry up to 225,000 passengers in Europe in 2010 of which 50 to 52 percent will be international, Martinoli said.

And while the new Epic is going to the Caribbean for her first season, it is very possible she will be brought back to Europe in the future, Martinoli added. The 4,200-passenger ship will be delivered next June.

Amerigo Perasso, president and CEO of Silversea Cruises, said that issues that need to be addressed are the varying immigration and customs practices in different countries. A more consistent approach to H1N1 would also be beneficial, he said, expressing concern how an outbreak would be handled.

Perasso said he was also concerned that larger vessels receive preferential berthing treatment over smaller vessels, because they carry more passengers and generate more revenue for the ports. He noted that Alaska bas so-called conflict meetings prior to each season to review and coordinate calls. A similar system elsewhere could be very helpful, Perasso said.

Silversea will call at more than 400 ports in 80 countries in 2010 and 32 to 38 percent of its capacity will be in Europe.

De Nardo added that ports do not need expensive terminals if they are transit ports, and that authorities need to be in better touch with reality, recognizing the total cost picture for ship calls and removing tariff monopolies. She said that two separate islands in the Aegean, for example, could have very different cost structures.

Mikael Krafft, president and CEO of Star Clippers, said that his ships and concept require minimum infrastructure, but be hopes for more separation between big and small ships in the future. His guests, he said, pay more to stay away from crowds. The three sailing ships typically cover 500 to 700 miles during a week. They need protected anchorages and tender passengers ashore.

Looking forward, Roberto Giorgi, CEO of V. Ships, said there should be global standards for port rules and compliance with MARPOL for discharging grey and black water, noting that waste deposit could become a revenue generator for ports.

Both Giorgi and Martinoli were skeptical of cold ironing, noting the costs and differences in power characteristic in North America and Europe. "Cold ironing was easy in Alaska," Martinoli said, "because of the ready supply of hydro-electric power."

Another initiative with little support in the industry is the proposed ECA area in North America.  Martinoli said ECA was intended mainly for cargo ships, noting that cruise ships operate very differently, and that authorities cannot regulate all ships the same way.

"It looks to me like there is little understanding among regulators for the impact their regulations may have," Martinoli said. "We (the industry) need help from local communities to interact with the regulators."

Giorgi used piracy as an example of how governments are not working together, "with everybody taking a different approach. And what has been done has not worked," he said, "because piracy is just continuing."