In March 2020, the Government of Gibraltar was forced to stop cruise ship arrivals to the Rock – a blow to the substantial income which this sector of the tourism industry generated for the Gibraltarian economy. The latest available data estimated that £16.7 Million came from cruise liner tourism in 2018.
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed everything: Our way of life and how we use our free time is not what it used to be, and it seems there is still a long way to go before normality returns. Travel for leisure has become a thing of the past due to restrictions on freedom of movement which have been put in place globally, and Gibraltar is no exception.
Gibraltar’s tourism has been drastically reduced, but it is the cruise ship tourism sector which has been hit the hardest; this was a sector which had been on the rise for years and which made Gibraltar a destination of choice for cruises.
On March 13th, the Government of Gibraltar halted the arrival of cruise ships as a preventative measure to control the spread of the virus as part of a number of measures which have drastically curbed tourism.
The data speaks for itself. According to the Gibraltar Port Authority, 197 cruise ships carrying 278,549 passengers arrived in Gibraltar throughout the course of 2019. This year, only five cruise ships carrying 9,518 passengers have docked.
Although the Government of Gibraltar has not specified to ReachExtra what kind of impact that this has had on the local economy, or its effect on employment, the latest statistical data can help us understand the significance that the cruise ship tourism sector has on the Gibraltar economy.
In 2018, Gibraltar welcomed 254 cruise ships which carried 406,998 passengers – this was a rise of 0.5% compared with 2017, and £16.7 million into the economy. The average passenger expenditure on the Rock was around £41.03 per capita.
The last passenger cruise ship to dock in Gibraltar was the P&O cruise Ship Company’s “Oceana” on the 13th of March. From that day on, cruise ships were only allowed to dock for technical calls, refuelling and taking provisions.
The first technical call was made by The World Dream cruise ship on the 21st of March. It had no passengers on board and docked for the sole purpose of refuelling as it made its journey to the United States. As the Government of Gibraltar stated at the time, no crew members were allowed disembark and shore-based personnel were prohibited from boarding the ship during its short stay.
Since then, the Government of Gibraltar has clarified that 30 technical cruise calls have been made with no passengers onboard for refuelling, oil replacement, provisions, maintenance, and waste disposal. In a few cases, crew members were allowed to disembark in order to be transferred directly to flights which had been chartered by the cruise companies.
In the face of the pandemic, Convent Place says tackling the Covid-19 crisis is their priority, but that it is also preparing for better times. This saw the creation of the “Future of Work Group”, which is evaluating and preparing to improve the situation the moment that things begin to return to normal.
The port is an area which is considered vital to the Gibraltar economy. Therefore, the Government has opted for developing a strategy which can be implemented quickly and efficiently to send the message that Gibraltar is, once again, open for business. Maintaining the link and services for the cruise sector in a safe way, with technical calls, is therefore a fundamental aspect of this strategy.
But Gibraltar’s role in the cruise ship industry during the pandemic has not only been limited to strategic and logistical calls. Gibraltar has been praised for its humanitarian assistance in the repatriation of crew members. As the Government of Gibraltar told ReachExtra, these repatriations have been conducted “under strict adherence to Covid-19 protocols for crew changes implemented by the Government.”
In May, Royal Caribbean (RCL) personally thanked the Chief Minister for Gibraltar’s assistance in the humanitarian logistical operations throughout the pandemic. The Director of Port Services for Royal Caribbean Europe, Middle East and Africa, Alessandro Carollo, sent an emotional letter to Fabian Picardo for the successful repatriation of crew members.
“Communities like Gibraltar are rare gems of humanity in such difficult and unprecedented times”, Carollo wrote, and expressed his “sincere gratitude for Gibraltar’s cooperation, support and professionalism”. He continued, “RCL have been historically supporting Gibraltar as a destination for its guests, and will continue to do so when regular cruising will restart”.
Picardo assured that all those who participated in the repatriation operation did so selflessly, “in the knowledge that this has been, above all, a humanitarian effort”.
In August, Gibraltar also won the MedCruise Association Award for its efforts to provide a safe and efficient service during the Covid-19 pandemic. Specifically, the Western Mediterranean Port of MedCruise awarded the Rock with the country which has shown “the greatest commitment during the pandemic”.
This is not just any award, the MedCruise Association represents the second largest cruise ship industry in the world and provides these awards in recognition of excellence in the industry for companies, organisations and individuals whose work had to lead this industry in a difficult and highly challenging future.
The Minister for Tourism, Vijay Daryanani, said: “Gibraltar is recognised as one of the leading cruise ports in the Western Mediterranean and this award, in these troubled times, further endorses our efforts to keep the Rock at the forefront of the cruise industry. Our membership of MedCruise is a vital part of our efforts to attract cruise ships to the Rock. We hope that once the current situation eases, we will once again welcome cruise passengers to our shores.”
Ex-Minister for the Port, Gilbert Licudi said: “The Gibraltar Port Authority, in conjunction with HM Government of Gibraltar, has worked hard to ensure that cruise vessels have been serviced safely and efficiently during these challenging times. The introduction of protocols by the GPA at the start of the pandemic has helped to enhance the already strong relationship with the cruise industry and has allowed crew changes and technical calls to be carried out in a way that has protected both the local population and crew members alike. Gibraltar has once again demonstrated that it is a Port that can be relied upon by the shipping community.”
Now that we enter into the final month of 2020, uncertainty of the “new normal” remains at large and it is still not known exactly when cruise passengers will be able to return to the Rock.