This month the Government of Azores inaugurates the new development "The Gateways of the Sea" in Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, Azores, as the culmination of the Seascope Project. This 50-million-euro investment was planned to provide both locals and visitors with a wide range of cruise, leisure, commercial and cultural facilities.

The Azores Islands are located in the Atlantic Ocean, 930 miles from Lisbon, and 2422 miles from the eastern coast of North America; hence its strategic importance to the cruise industry for island itineraries and as a stopover call for repositionings.

This archipelago of volcanic origin has a total area of 910 square miles in nine islands, of which Sao Miguel, known as "The Green Island", is the largest and most populated (around 150.000 inhabitants).

Sao Miguel is also an island with an expansive tourism offer. Its cosmopolitan town of Ponta Delgada (50 thousand inhabitants) offers the visitor a blend of contemporary amenities with an historic Portuguese flavour. The island also enjoys a diverse scenery with beautiful lakes, volcanic craters and peaks, sandy beaches, lush foliage, hot springs, traditional villages and volcanic agriculture.

Opening of The Gateways of the Sea, July 2008

Ponta Delgada, the major city of the Azores archipelago and MedCruise member port, opens The Gateways of the Sea towards the Atlantic and towards new opportunities, new energies, a better quality of life, services and conditions to receive visitors.

Inaugurated in July 2008, this redevelopment of the passenger area of the port is expected to become a focus point for economic and tourism development in the archipelago, combining leisure and culture with functionality.

The cruise liner maritime terminal is of big dimensions: 370 metres in length and 11 metres in depth. It allows for easy manoeuvring for megaships and has been designed to efficiently accommodate large numbers of cruise visitors.

Due to the interest shown in the Azores by cruise companies, the Government of the Azores undertook the construction of the cruise terminal located at The Gateways of the Sea development, clearly underlining its commitment to cruise tourism as an important aspect of the economic development of this port, city and island.

The Gateways of the Sea's 5300 sqm commercial zone is comprised of restaurants and terraces serving traditional and international food, a press centre, a bank, a travel agency, a disco, rent-a-car facilities, an artisan gift shop, a nautical store and a pharmacy.

The project includes a 4000 sqm sea pavilion, a modern convention and events centre that will soon begin to host shows, exhibitions and theatrical performances, and is topped with a panoramic restaurant. Above the sea pavilion, a public square was constructed alongside the city's sea promenade and under the canopy of the restaurant, flanked by an open-air amphitheatre, all facing the city. Cruise visitors are only a few steps away from the sea pavilion and the city centre.

The project also serves yachtsmen and includes a new marina in the western quay near the sea pavilion, with a capacity of 470 yachts.

An inter-island ferry quay is also located within the project area and it has been conceived in a way to facilitate access and flow of traffic, with a parallel passageway, so that vehicles picked up do not interfere with those being dropped off.  Over 120 parking spaces for cars, taxis and buses plus pick up and drop off areas will provide improved services.

The project also includes a natural swimming pool filled with Atlantic sea water to be enjoyed by locals and visitors.

Cruise industry conference, June 2008

As part of the Seascope concept, Ponta Delgada hosted last month a workshop entitled Seascope: The cruise industry of today and tomorrow, which brought together cruise line executives and Azorean port and tourism representatives.

The event offered three unique panels of speakers including the following industry leaders and local officials:

Bruce Krumrine                      Vice-President of Shore Operations – Europe & Exotics
Tim Moore                              Tours Manager, Fred Olsen
Philip Naylor                            Fleet Operations General Manager,
P&O, Cunard and Ocean
Village, Carnival UK
Luigi Pastena                          Port Captain, MSC
John Tercek                            Vice-President Commercial Development,
Royal Caribbean
Laurent Monsaingeon             President, MedCruise
Albert Poggio                          Vice-President, MedCruise
Juan Madrid                            Marketing & Commercial Director, Port of Barcelona

Chris Ashcroft                         Ashcroft & Associates

Duarte Ponte                           Secretary of Economy, Azores Government
Carlos Adalberto Silva            Chair Leader, Port of Azores
José Simao                             Managing Director, Shore Tours

The topics discussed were the operations of the cruise industry, with an overview of its global reach and economic impact; how the itineraries are planned and what are the characteristics of top destinations; the importance of the team work between local entities and looking after the crew; and the challenges and requirements of the ever increasing size of cruise ships.

The second panel debated of the way to develop a successful cruise port, with the case study of the port of Barcelona; the role of MedCruise in helping ports understand the direction of regulation and legislation; how to influence the distribution chain, with the case study of the UK market, Europe's largest source market; what cruise lines look for in developing shore excursions; and how to deliver high quality shore excursions and the potential for new itineraries in the region.

Participants visited the crater lakes region in Sete Cidades, including a visit to a Pineapple Plantation and a guided visit to The Gateways of the Sea during its final phase of construction.