Diary of a Cruise Port Observer


By URBACT, on August 25th, 2011

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Unlike some Port – City relationships Ajaccio (Corsica) and its port facilities are virtually inseparable, territorially, physically, visually and even functionally. The harbour and bay provide a full range of modern day port facilities, combining the traditional “Gare Maritime” with its ferry services to Sardinia and mainland Italy and France, with yacht and pleasure boat marina, coastal tourist excursions and a small residual inshore fishing activity – all within a stone’s throw of the old town. However, in the summer, dominating this picture is the almost daily presence of cruise liners often two to three abreast, dwarfing the car ferries alongside the terminal quays.

In 2010 Ajaccio hosted 250 visits by such leviathans of holiday pleasure-cruising and in 2011 this figure is likely to be even higher. The ships vary in size, scale and quality of the offer (super luxury to budget), and are owned by travel or shipping companies often based even outside the Mediterranean, with exotic or sometimes frankly bizarre names.  Ajaccio is a transit port rather than a home port so a pattern of visit generally involves a ship arriving in late evening or during the night, leaving again in the evening of the following day (less than 24 hours stopover). The advantage for cities in welcoming such vessels, sometimes with more than 1500 passengers on board, seems at first sight to be self-evident. This impression is even reinforced by the inescapable image of luxury and financial well-being associated with the appearance of an all white and silver hull containing a voyaging shop, restaurant, theatre, casino, swimming pool, fitness, hotel complex with multiple balconied decks blocking out the horizon. But is this the true picture in terms of real benefits for the city and its population?

Around mid-morning the city begins to see a steady trail of badged tourists moving out from the ocean terminal along the principal shopping streets of “Cours Napoleon” and “rue du Cardinal Fesch” towards the nucleus of the old town. Passengers and occasional crew members show clear interest in the ubiquitous souvenir shops and clothes outlets, mostly not in other food shops or convenience stores which is hardly surprising in view of services on board. Similarly cafés and ice cream parlours attract spending customers but it is much more rare to see a restaurant with badged cruise clients. Staff at the city art museum (musée Fesch), which houses the most important French collection of Italian paintings outside the Louvre, report that they are hardly overwhelmed by visits from cruise passengers. Groups of cyclists swarm out from the ships on some guided itinerary, and organised and individual excursions are available. Here the question of effective time onshore (short stopover) and distance to the island’s sights is clearly a limiting factor.  At five or six in the evening, accompanied by signal blasts of the ship’s horn, the straggle of visitors are sucked back over gangplanks like ants returning to their nest, and as the warmth of the sun begins to wane ropes are cast off and departure announces the next stage of an itinerant journey.

The question of cost-benefit analysis of this phenomenon, for the local community is fascinating. It is clear that passenger expenditure can only provide part of the economic and social advantage, may even create risks like a negative modification of the retail sector. However these effects are  differentiated in the variety and status of port cities, in the case of home ports and transit ports for instance. In order to maximise benefits and diminish potential negative transformations port cities need to be fully aware of all the elements that make up the balance sheet (shore based employment, service supply, mooring fees, passenger and crew expenditure etc. etc.) and react accordingly. Many already realise the value of at least combining home port status with transit port facilities – or applying the integrated approach to plan port areas so that every facility for cruising is linked to complementary uses and the traditional urban fabric, providing important opportunities for year round productivity and quality of life for local inhabitants.

In the URBACT CTUR (Cruise Traffic and Urban Regeneration) project this whole aspect is dealt with in great detail, in a highly interesting and thought provoking document the SECOND CTUR THEMATIC JOURNAL – Topics and Case Studies on “Economic and Social Benefits.

Philip Stein
Thematic Pole Manager

One Response to “Diary of a Cruise Port Observer”

  1. Costa Marcos says:

    The large mooring fees are probably the biggest reason why Ajaccio works hard (and very successfully) to attract cruise ships, rather than the on-shore spend by the passengers. BTW, I have never met a ‘badged’ cruise passenger in my life!

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