How Portsmouth is planning to be the UK’s leading cruise destination by 2024

Portsmouth is planning to be the leading UK cruise ship port by 2024 – and plans have continued in the pandemic.

By Kat Hoare
Monday, 7th December 2020, 7:00 am
Updated Monday, 7th December 2020, 9:36 am

If all goes to plan, this will increase the amount of cruise passengers visiting the city by 300 per cent - and give a big tourism boost. It would see an extra 125,000 tourists visiting the city.

Abandoned cruises hit the headlines during the first wave of Covid-19 earlier in the year.

But Portsmouth port is still charting a way forward for how the cruise ship industry can really boost the city’s economy over the next four years.

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Cruise ship Saga Pearl II passing the Still and West and Spice Island pubs on its way out of Portsmouth harbour on November 13 at the start of a Mediterranean cruise calling first at Lisbon. Picture: Stephen Ashton.

Ian Diaper, Portsmouth International Port’s head of operations explained how plans are being revised but the transport hub is still ready to grow.

He said: ‘By the 2024/25 season Portsmouth expects to be up to 150 cruise calls per year – that is a large percentage for the transit market – where Portsmouth is just a passenger stop on the way on to another destination.’

The port authority’s 2019 five-year plan for the expansion of the cruise ship industry has now been extended to a six-year plan after Covid-19 delayed progress this year.

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Expedition cruise line Hurtigruten's new battery-powered cruise ship MS Fridjtof Nansen makes its first trip into Portsmouth on March 5. It's one of the first ships of its kind across the globe. Picture: Paul Gonella / Strong Island

However, Mr Diaper confirmed the port has been doing a lot of work hidden from public view to further progress the plans.

He said: ‘We’ve done a lot of work behind the scenes during Covid.

‘In order to give passengers confidence, we’ve undertaken a lot of work within the terminal including a temperature check camera, to test everyone who comes into the port footprint.

‘We were the first UK port to get the (infection risk management) DNV-GL accreditation.’

Ian Diaper. Picture: Malcolm Wells

Portsmouth port is in advanced talks with Fred Olsen and Saga cruise ships to commence new services involving Portsmouth in 2021. Saga would leave from the city’s port.

Saga has already confirmed that in May next year, it will be naming a new cruise ship in the city, which will be used for Spanish and Baltic cruises.

Mr Diaper added: ‘With all the work we’ve done with city leaders, we are in an excellent position as cruise liners to resume and we can capture the market.

Crystal Symphony cruise ship, at 238m the largest vessel to have visited the port.

‘We’ve had a commitment from Saga and Fred Olsen and a number of other European cruise lines companies.’

The port is also talking to other US and European-based companies to increase the cruise ship numbers even further by 2024.

It is hoping to attract US and German passengers and is in negotiations with tour operators.

Mr Diaper added: ‘Sixty per cent of the tourists will be British, 20 per cent German and the others, a mix of Scandinavian and Canadian tourists.’

He said it is the cruise line companies themselves who must pay a fee to enter the port, as well as paying city suppliers for food and local suppliers.

That will come in addition to the money generated by passengers, creating a double injection of money into the city.

SeaDream 1 came through Portsmouth on Monday, October 19. Picture: Andrew Sassoli-Walker

He added: ‘Southampton is currently the UK’s number one turn port. We are looking at both the turn and the transit passengers.’

These possible deals come after a flurry of activity in the harbour in recent years.

The world’s first hybrid cruise ship, the battery-powered MS Fridtjof Nansen, was in Portsmouth on March 5. SeaDream Yacht Club’s vessel, SeaDream 1, was the first cruise ship to re-enter UK waters in the pandemic - and chose Portsmouth as its port to do so.

At the time, in October, Mr Diaper said it was ‘testament to everyone’s hard work’ that the operators were confident enough to use the city’s port.

And that arrival came three months after the massive luxury cruiser Majesty of the Seas sailed into the port in an historic first in July.

Weighing in at 73,000 tonnes, she was heavier than HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, and was the biggest ship to arrive in port.

The Royal Caribbean International 879ft-long liner’s arrival was only possible following an £18m overhaul of the port’s berths.

The money cruises can generate for the city have been calculated at £286 per person per stay for those departing from Portsmouth, when it includes a hotel stay.

Mr Diaper confirmed that for those who are just stopping off on the way to other destinations usually bring in £78, but this was boosted to £100 per person as shopping destinations are within easy reach of the port.

Business organisation Shaping Portsmouth has been working for almost a year with firms to create specialist tours of the city taking in key First World War sites, the history and heritage of Charles Dickens, and shopping tours.

It’s hoped this will make sure the city is ready to promote the many different aspects of tourism that it has to offer.

Stef Nienaltowski, chief executive of Shaping Portsmouth, has led the local partnership in liaising with the cruise ship companies.

He is confident the city could handle, and benefit from, an influx of tourists linked to cruises.

Mr Nienaltowski said: ‘If you think of the current estimates by 2024 you could be seeing an extra 125,000 tourists who will be taking advantage of one the multi-centre tours that we are planning to offer.

‘And when you consider the amount of spend they will make, it will incredibly support the existing jobs and hopefully create some more.’

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