IT is a hugely lucrative pie, and Portsmouth is keen to take as large a bite out of it as they possibly can.
That is why last Friday’s visit by the cruise liner Viking Jupiter was a glimpse into what the council and the International Ferry Port believe could be a very profitable future.
The £340 million euro vessel - only launched in February of this year - instantly became one of the largest cruise ships to ever visit Portsmouth at 227m (775 feet long). That is twice the length of the pitch at Fratton Park.
Its stay was brief - Jupiter was docking in Portsmouth for just one day as part of an itinerary which started in Barcelona and was ending in Copenhagen 15 days later - visiting Malaga, Porto, Zeebrugge and Amsterdam among others.
But the fact it had arrived was cause for celebration, for take a minute to digest the following statistics ...
Down the M27 at Southampton, it is estimated that every time a cruise ship visits it is worth around £2 million to the local economy. In 2017, they welcomed 500 cruise ships - a cool £1 billion in all.
At present, Portsmouth welcomes about 50 cruise ships and because of the size of the port’s berth they are restricted to the smaller ones.
But earlier this year the council - the port’s owners - announced a near £19m investment into upgrading facilities and increasing the current berth length of 240m to 253m. It is hoped work will be completed by March 2021.
An increase of 13m might not sound huge, but it will allow the port to welcome cruise liners with around 2,000 passengers. In contrast, the Viking Jupiter has a 930-passenger limit.
Portsmouth port director Mike Sellers believes every cruise passenger visiting this city is worth around £100 to the local economy. Even if only half the passengers on a 2,000-capacity liner took the chance to visit the city, that’s around £100,000 injected into local coffers. Be prepared for long queues at the Spinnaker Tower as well.
And the plan, after the infrastructure and berthing upgrades, is to welcome around 100 cruise liners per year. Do the maths yourself.
Worldwide, there are more than 300 cruise liners (a third of which are owned by Carnival) capable of holding around half a million passengers. It is believed around 25 million people take a cruise every year. That is a lot of people, and no wonder Portsmouth want some of them to discover its tourist delights. The port already deals with around two million ferry passengers a year, and now it wants to start raising its cruise numbers.
To the casual observer, the Viking Jupiter might appear large. At 227m in length and weighing 47,800 tonnes, it certainly dwarfs a Wightlink ferry. But there are far bigger liners. Far bigger. The list is topped by the floating leviathan which is Symphony of the Seas, weighing a staggering 228,081 tonnes, standing 1,188 feet long and holding 6,500 passengers (plus over 2,000 staff). In all, there are more than 70 cruise liners weighing more than 100,000 tonnes.
It is easy, therefore, to see why Portsmouth is desperate to become a bigger player in the cruise industry. The port is easy to get to, just minutes off the M27 (providing Pompey aren’t playing at home that day!), and it’s only a short distance from the Historic Dockyard, Gunwharf Quays and other major attractions. Due to its naval history, Portsmouth is - or should be - a fairly well-known city to any cruise passenger. In a way, it’s the proverbial no-brainer.
Sellars is keen to stress that Portsmouth’s investment isn’t aimed at taking cruise traffic away from their Hampshire neighbour. ‘We are not in competition with Southampton. They have a huge international port - we just want to enhance what the Solent area can offer,’ he remarked. ‘I started work here two years ago and I was blown away by the tourist attractions on offer in Portsmouth. Where else can you arrive by cruise liner and see such historic boats so close?’
Where else indeed. Portsmouth is certainly worthy of inclusion on any cruise passenger’s itinerary - there’s more to see and do locally than in Southampton (I’ve lived and worked in both cities, mine is a purely objective view) - and the city needs to promote itself worldwide as just that. No point spending £19m on improving facilities and keeping it a secret is there? It is nice to know, therefore, they are getting the word out internationally.
‘We went to the Miami Cruise Convention in 2018, and we went again this year,’ Sellers reported. ‘But this time we were a lot more proactive - letting companies know who we are and what we’d like to do.’
Viking are one cruise company who will certainly be coming back to Portsmouth. Founded in 1997 in Norway, they boast six ocean liners (all built in the past four years) and over 70 river ‘longships’ - the latter mainly cruising around Scandinavia.
All six ocean liners are exactly the same apart from the artwork adorning the walls and the fact that two - including Jupiter - boast planetariums and onboard astronomers. The onboard Spa includes a snow grotto, there is free Wifi (a rare find on cruise ships), 102 chefs (including four purely baking bread 24/7) to help you pile on the pounds - and a gym to help you lose them again - and over 100 waiting staff.
Fancy a cruise then? How about this one - starting this August, a 245-day world cruise aboard Viking Sun departs from London. On its packed itinerary are six continents, 112 cities and ports, and overnight stays in 22 different places. Interested? Prices start from £65,790.
See, I told you it was a lucrative business …
For further information, visit https://www.vikingcruises.co.uk/