Baltic cruise season kicks-off surrounded by a mix of hope and uncertainty
Cruise managers from multiple Baltic ports met again yesterday, during an internal meeting organized by the Baltic Ports Organization (BPO). The main topic discussed was the greatly anticipated start of this year’s cruise season. While some ports are expecting calls in the upcoming weeks, the situation remains uncertain for a number of them.
The season has already begun for the Port of Kiel, with vessels operated by Aida and TUI calling at the German port. Passengers are eager to travel and prove to be very disciplined when it comes to complying with various safety measures and regulations put in place to ensure their health. This is despite the fact, that travel is currently only possible in the form of so called blue cruises. Passengers are not allowed to leave the vessel during calls at ports other than the one they boarded the ship at.
Port of Rostock is expecting to open the season with the beginning of July. These trips will also be subject to the blue cruise model. Beginning of July also marks the expected start of the season for the Ports of Stockholm and the Port of Tallinn. Ports and operators both hope, that chaperoned bus tours will be allowed soon in order to make the experience more appealing to the passengers.
"Passengers are eager to travel and prove to be very disciplined when it comes to complying with various safety measures and regulations put in place to ensure their health."
The situation is much more dire in a number of different countries, who are still awaiting more specific directions by the authorities. Denmark is slowly opening up and some more information about a possible start of the cruise season in the country may be available mid-June.
Ports of Riga and St. Petersburg report similar uncertainty. Riga is expecting the first call mid-July, but in all likelihood it will be cancelled. Port of Gdynia is more optimistic, but just as everywhere else, the situation is dynamic and prone to change at any moment. St. Petersburg is also eagerly awaiting further decisions from the government side, but for now the borders remain closed with no hint of possible restriction softening.
It is in Finland where hopes seem to be lowest. Ports of Helsinki and HaminaKotka accept the reality that there might be no cruise calls this year. A possible positive aspect of the difficult situation the ports and operators find themselves in, is a turn to the domestic market.
Current lack of information on when and what restrictions might get lifted, coupled with the time it requires for the ship operators to prepare a ship for the season (approx. eight weeks are required to make the ship ready), may result in high competition between the ports to attract calls. There simply won’t be enough ships to go around and the operators will gravitate towards countries where clear information as to the restrictions in force is readily available, since it will allow them to prepare their itineraries in advance.
"A possible positive aspect of the difficult situation the ports and operators find themselves in, is a turn to the domestic market."
For the time being, even an extension of the cruise season well into the autumn months might not be enough for the industry to start to recover.
The participants of the meeting decided to gather again in the second half of August 2021.