Cruise lines’ Dubrovnik deal seen as a way to combat overcrowding

Last year, Dubrovnik received 742,000 passengers on 538 ships.
FORT LAUDERDALE — Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald said a new agreement in Dubrovnik, Croatia, illustrates how fears about crowding in favourite tourist areas can be managed by the cruise industry.

Speaking as part of a CEO panel at the Seatrade Cruise Global convention here, Donald took the occasion to disclose that major cruise lines have agreed to coordinate their schedules this summer in Dubrovnik.

That could mean some ships arrive later or depart earlier to keep their time in port from coinciding, or it could mean moving some ships to arrive during the week rather than on weekends.

The walled Old City of Dubrovnik was named a Unesco World Heritage site in 1979, but Donald said its mayor requested a meeting with cruise officials because it had been threatened with delisting by Unesco.

Donald and other cruise officials met several times with mayor Mato Frankovic, most recently in January when an agreement was apparently reached.

“In the end, our guests don’t want to go to a place that’s overcrowded,” Donald said. “If the sites that everybody wants to see are being abused, our guests won’t go. It’s in our self-interest, but it’s also in the interest of the places we go.”

Last year, Dubrovnik received 742,000 passengers on 538 ships. The city recorded about 3.4 million overnight stays, with many visitors drawn by Dubrovnik’s status as a filming location for the HBO series “Game of Thrones.”

Donald said cruise lines need to “listen with empathy for the issue of what some would call over tourism, not necessarily driven by cruise companies but by the fact that we’re a very visible symbol for it; our ships are large, and so forth. We have to listen with empathy to the ports that are out there and make sure we work with them to get the proper infrastructure.”

Dubrovnik’s over tourism concerns are shared by several other destinations in the Mediterranean, including Barcelona, Venice and the Greek island of Santorini.

Travel journalist Peter Greenberg, who moderated the CEO panel, said the World Travel and Tourism Council in a recent study listed “destination degradation” as one of three critical issues facing the travel industry.

Others on the panel took issue with the label “over tourism.”

“I think it’s a misnomer,” said Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. chairman Richard Fain. “What we’re really talking about is sustainable tourism.”

Fain cited Royal Caribbean’s development of Falmouth in Jamaica to offer an alternative to Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, as another successful response to crowding concerns.

After Falmouth opened in 2011, the number of cruise visitors actually rose, but they were more spread out.

“There were more people but less density,” Fain said.

“The opportunity, really, is to work together in these communities,” Fain said. “We work with them, and we find solutions that are to both of our benefits. And those we work with are very happy. You see that over and over again. Those who just want to make headlines, that’s a different story.”

The Celebtity Reflection in Dubrovnik.
The Celebrity Reflection in Dubrovnik.

Greenberg said that two cities where over tourism has been a hot-potato issue — Venice and Barcelona — are in the backyard of MSC Cruises, which has its headquarters in Geneva and its operations in Naples, Italy.

MSC executive chairman Pierfrancesco Vago said some perspective was in order.

“When you’re talking about Venice’s 30 million visitors a year, the cruise industry is 1 million of that,” Vago said.

He added that unlike the general tourism population, which ebbs and flows individually, cruise tourists come in groups that can be managed.

“We can actually coordinate,” Vago said. “We can actually ensure that there will never be an overflow, and we can control embarkation and disembarkation.”

A 2015 Unesco report recommended that the number of cruise passengers at Dubrovnik should not exceed 8,000 a day, arguing that when more than 8,000 visitors are inside the walls of the old city “tourist blight” becomes inevitable.

Research from the Port of Dubrovnik found that in 2016, arrivals exceeded 8,000 on 18 out of 243 total cruise days and that arrivals exceeded 10,000 on four days that year.

MSC has been looking for new destinations in the Adriatic to supplement hot spots like Dubrovnik. Last year, for example, MSC began calling at the port of Sarande, in southern Albania.

“Nobody knew that in Sarande, there were 10 different Unesco sites,” MSC CEO Gianni Onorato said in a recent interview. “This is the opportunity the cruise industry can give because there are options. That’s the only way to solve this problem.”

Two more expedition ships for rapidly expanding Ponant

Ponant has now ordered six Explorer-class ships. The first two arrive this year.FORT LAUDERDALE — Ponant plans to build two more Explorer-class ships for delivery in 2020.

The two ships will be called Le Bellot and Le Surville. They will be the fifth and sixth in a class that starts with two ships arriving in 2018 (Le Laperouse in June and Le Champlain in September), followed by two (Le Bougainville and Le Kerguelen) in 2019.

Like the other Explorer ships, Le Bellot and Le Surville are named for French navigators (Joseph Rene Bellot and Jean-François-Marie de Surville).

Together with Ponant’s current five-ship fleet and an icebreaker due in 2021, the French luxury expedition line expects to have 12 ships in service by 2021.

The seven new ships represent a $2 billion investment, said Herve Bellaiche, Ponant’s chief sales and marketing officer. “No other company has invested that kind of amount in small ships,” he said.

Ponant announced the new ships at a press conference at the Seatrade Cruise Global conference. The event was attended by founder Jean Emmanuel Sauvee, who created the company 30 years ago to revive the French cruising tradition embodied by the steamships Normandie and France.

However, the idea was adapted to modern times, with Ponant becoming a small-ship line while still holding to the French ocean heritage of luxury interiors and fine cuisine. “Small is best. Destination is key,” Sauvee said in summarizing the line’s philosophy.

Sauvee said Ponant expects to have 460 departures in 2021. Edie Rodriguez, hired last fall as Ponant’s Americas brand chair and corporate special advisor, said the growth makes marketing in North America imperative. “As we grow from five ships to 12, clearly, we need to conquer the U.S. market,” Rodriguez said.

New Ideas Upgrade Cruise Ship Internet

Image result for Global Eagle enhanced internet


At Seatrade Cruise Global, I had the chance to speak with Ole Kristian Sivertsen, president of Global Eagle’s cruise, ferry and yacht services about where the company is heading with its internet access aboard Norwegian Cruise Line and beyond.

I know Global Eagle by way of MTN, one of cruising’s first connectivity brands. Sivertsen informs me that Global Eagle was effectively formed by merging MTN’s maritime satellite services, EMC’s shoreside satellite services and Global Eagle Entertainment’s film and television material under one umbrella.

“We are now a leading content and connectivity provider for air, sea and land, basically,” he said. “The merger between content and connectivity is an important thing for us because really: What are the internet pipes for? It’s for consuming digital content of some sort and, of course, providing internet connectivity so they can use whatever they use at home …”

To that end, it is Global Eagle’s primary focus to create the best overall experience for guests at sea. Competitors often concern themselves with hardware and bandwidth, but Global Eagle is more about software and efficiency.

“Over the last year or two, we’ve put a lot of innovation efforts into changing this industry, really changing it from the traditional focus on QoS [quality of service] and bits and bytes and technical parameters – I mean everyone is talking about how many megabits and bytes and hertz … and how much network capacity will you commit to over time,” he explained.

Image result for Global Eagle enhanced internet

“Whereas all of those things are very important technically, but the thing we really need to focus on as an industry is how is the experience for the users, in the hand of the user. So, we’ve been driving a very strong shift towards what we call and what we named quite some time, a year or two back ago, as the QoE factor, the Quality of Experience.”

A content provider as much as a connectivity one, Global Eagle tries to store as much content onboard ahead of time, essentially broadcasting it to the ship as a whole rather than individuals fetching it.

Sivertsen said, “We’ve developed that with advanced algorithms that are following the trends and the behavior of the internet itself and are more or less able to predict the behavior of what’s trending, what’s going on, what people need, to make sure a lot of the content that the users will use while they’re onboard is actually locally on the vessel before they even ask for it.”

In fact, the company is finding that more than 67 percent of all web browsing can be delivered internally, freeing up capacity for things that more directly impact quality of experience.

Another step towards efficiency is the order in which download and upload requests are placed in line. This way, a user browsing isn’t stuck waiting long behind one uploading multiple videos.

Sivertsen added, “We’ve developed some unique technology to address just that and make sure that we really give priorities to these kind of things in that queue so that really we address the quality of experience …”

The goal is to ultimately create a partnership model with cruise lines wherein they can be supplied with dynamic bandwidth and are not required to repeatedly seek out quotes for additional capacity. Norwegian Cruise Line, for one, has signed a multi-year agreement with Global Eagle for enhanced internet and entertainment services on its 14-ship fleet.

As part of the services, Global Eagle will provide Norwegian with tiered Wi-Fi plans, texting and video. Guests are anticipating access to a portal of television programming, on-demand films, games and special event broadcasts.

“Under this new agreement with Global Eagle, we’re looking to expand our onboard communication and entertainment experience for our guests,” said Ross Henderson, NCL’s vice president of onboard revenue, in a press release. “In addition, Global Eagle’s portal will enable us to manage our onboard revenue-producing services, entertainment and information more efficiently.”

“This new partnership agreement with NCLH is a giant step toward achieving our vision of delivering an unparalleled QoE in reliable high-speed Wi-Fi and entertainment for people on the move, whether on an airplane, cruise ship or luxury yacht,” added Sivertsen in the press release.

“One of our key competitive advantages in the marketplace is our ability to offer end users a QoE similar to what they get at a luxury land resort.”