Cruises, the Med is back on top once again / ANALYSIS

The Chinese miracle seems to have been a mirage, companies are growing their fleets with larger ships: after the crisis, Europe is strategic again.



Previously one of the main destinations for the cruise market, the Mediterranean then saw several years of decline, but it is now showing a significant turnaround that is making its ports euphoric. In 2013, the Mediterranean was the second destination in the world after the Caribbean with 20% of the market, and then came the great collapse, with a fall to 13.6% recorded last year. At the start of the crisis, most significant was the political turbulence in several countries which were traditional destinations for cruise ships, like Turkey, Tunisia and Egypt.

These disturbances led to the cancellation of ship calls that accounted for thousands of passengers: this affected La Goletta (Tunis), Istanbul, Izmir, Kusadasi and Alexandria, Egypt, to mention only the major ports. Limitations on the passage of large ships into Venice also resulted in a collapse for the Adriatic Sea. With a loss of over 400,000 passengers in less than four years, the decrease in Mediterranean home ports for cruises was only partially recuperated with the rise of the port of Piraeus. Finally, a boom in the Chinese market has convinced almost all shipping companies to shift capacity to the Far East, lured by optimistic growth forecasts.

Today the situation has partially changed, and the “old” Mediterranean is beginning to win back its old ground. Leaving the problems of Venice and the countries with political instability aside, China has not proved able to absorb the new capacity sent into its sea, forcing almost all shipowners to make a sharp reverse. In addition, the growth plans of all the major companies are putting new capacity on the market with thousands of other beds to fill and with obvious benefits for Mediterranean destinations. The return to popularity is mainly affecting the Western Mediterranean. So most of the new ships launched in recent months have been based in the Tyrrhenian with home ports of Barcelona and Civitavecchia always at the forefront in terms of traffic volumes. The high-style deployments of several companies’ new flagships bear witness to this: MSC Meraviglia, AidaPerla, Symphony of the Seas, and MSC Seaview, and it will continue in 2019 with AidaNova, MSC Bellissima and Costa Smeralda.

According to the Cruise Industry News, 2018 will once again see the Mediterranean far exceed the level of 14% market share, and the forecasts are optimistic: 2019 looks even better, as this destination currently has the highest annual growth rate, with a significant increase of 10.2%. If Venice was also fully operational, the numbers could be even higher. But there are other critical issues to be resolved: infrastructural adaptation, for example, which has not followed the growth of fleets and the average increase in ship size.. Then there is also the question of the green turn launched by Carnival with the first dual-fuel ships that will debut with the Aida and Costa brands. The possibility of resupplying liquefied natural gas for these vessels is still very limited. The tourist appeal of the Mediterranean remains very strong, its destinations with cities rich in history are a must for major operators and the country that benefits most from this major upturn is Italy.
Costa Crociere and MSC are the companies that contribute most to growth in the Mediterranean
. The two companies, with their “fiefdoms” in Savona and Genoa respectively, represent the backbone on which the cruise industry in Southern Europe is based, bearing in mind that they are the only ones operating in the area even in winter. American brands historically oriented to the Caribbean market are also contributing to this rebirth: Norwegian Cruise Line, with a continual presence and the great Norwegian Epic, whose home ports are currently Civitavecchia and Barcelona; and Royal Caribbean, which every year positions an “Oasis” class ship in the Western Mediterranean and this year sent the world’s largest ship, Symphony of the Seas.