The Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea regions can reap significant economic benefits from the burgeoning European cruise sector provided the required investments in the upgrading of existing port infrastructure or in the development of new regional ports are secured according to the President of the Association of Mediterranean Cruise Ports – MedCruise.

Speaking on the occasion of MedCruise’s decision to endorse the inaugural Posidonia Sea Tourism Forum to be held from 21-22 June 2011 at the Athens’ Onassis Cultural Centre, Giovanni Spadoni, President of MedCruise, welcomed the initiative as a positive step towards the further development of the region’s cruise industry but highlighted the need to embark upon a solid port infrastructure development plan in line with each destination’s unique characteristics.

“Small destination ports and islands must carefully balance between the level of infrastructure improvements and/or expansions they are willing to undertake and the conservation of their tourist value and character while marquee destination ports must plan according to their customer priorities, for example commercial versus touristic,” said Spadoni.

“The return on investment must justify capital improvements at cruise port facilities. The benefit at the destination is not only port revenue, rather cruise tourism enhances local economic development,” said Spadoni whose organization counts the Greek ports of Volos, Patras, Kos, Heraklion, Igoumenitsa, Kefallonia and Kavala amongst its members. Piraeus is scheduled to rejoin MedCruise and Thessaloniki and Katakolon are considering joining.

“We must demonstrate that cruise activity benefits the local economy to justify port capital improvements and this is a key objective of the upcoming Posidonia Sea Tourism Forum. As MedCruise is an active proponent of the development of the wider Mediterranean region as a mega cruise destination, we will contribute our port expertise to help highlight the important positive role cruise tourism development can play towards the sustainable economic growth of a sea port region,” he added.

According to official industry statistics, the Mediterranean is expected to surpass the Caribbean in less than a decade, becoming the world’s number one cruising region. This means that the importance of East Mediterranean home porting will increase dramatically along with a pressing need to develop and promote new ports of call.

Direct cruise spending in Greece in 2009 amounted to nearly Euro 600 million ranking the country seventh in terms of receipts despite topping the list of transit destinations with 21 per cent of the total number of passengers who were estimated for 2009 to be in excess of 4.9 million.

“Despite the recession and the dire economic conditions across the world, the European cruise market in 2009 saw an increase of 12.1 per cent, testimony to the sector’s resilience against a financially harsh environment,” said Theodore Vokos, Project Manager Posidonia, the organizer of the event which this year will explore the Challenge for Greece, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea’.

“The Mediterranean currently attracts about 58 per cent of the European source market, mainly sourced from the region’s more mature markets, such as UK, Germany, Italy, France and Spain. There is a significant trend to develop new cruise markets across the continent, which ties up with Eastern Mediterranean’s and Black Sea’s ambitions to ride on the cruise popularity’s wave,” he said.

“The conference will shed light to the new prevailing trends in port development as cruise terminals are now more demanding than ever in the quest to satisfy the increased needs of operators and provide high quality of services to their passengers against a highly competitive backdrop of both established as well as upcoming destinations across the Mediterranean and the Black Sea regions’ said Vokos.

The Posidonia Sea Tourism Forum is organised under the auspices of the Greek Ministry of Maritime Affairs, Islands and Fisheries, the Hellenic Chamber of Shipping and the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE). The Forum is sponsored by the Piraeus Port Authority and the Athenaeum Intercontinental Athens.