58 calls and over 80,000 passengers
2014 will mark a landmark in cruise tourism in the Basque Country since, for the first time, the Port of Bilbao received 58 passenger vessels – 14 more than in 2013. The number of cruise passengers, which was also greater than in previous years, totalled 80,161 in all, which is 43% or 24,161 passengers up on the previous year.
1,710 passengers disembarked while 1,722 embarked and the rest were travellers in transit on those routes with Bilbao as a port of call for some hours and even for some days.
Outstanding were the three overnight calls made by Celebrity Cruises (the American company of the RCCL Group), the seven by P&O (the Carnival Group’s Anglo-American company), Hapag Lloyd’s four (the German-American company belonging to the RCCL Group) and the ten made by MSC (the Italian company of MSC Cruises). Of the total number of cruise vessels received, eight were making their first call at the Port of Bilbao.
Bearing in mind these figures, the management at the Port of Bilbao have described the season as very satisfactory, especially because it will open up new perspectives for tourist growth; for the majority of the passengers this had been their first contact with the Basque Country and they were very enthusiastic about it, commenting they would warmly recommend this destination. They also spoke of returning again, but the next time to spend several days here. In parallel, the arrival of new companies and the service provided allows the Port to venture that these
shipping lines will again include Bilbao on their routes: although it may not be next year, due to the fact that destinations are usually chosen quite in advance, they are sure it will be so in coming seasons.
A long-distance race
In March next year when Cruise Shipping Miami, the most important international event of its kind is held, the Port Authority’s estimates for 2015 will be made known. However, they are aware that this year’s figures will be difficult to maintain for several consecutive years “given that this is not a quick sprint but a long-distance race.” This is why they warn that future growths may come “in zigzag graph form: that is, growth will not be a year-after-year constant, but net growths in periods between three and five years, because there might be vessel positioning in other world zones, or reconditioning of vessels in dry dock, which can affect this progression in certain years.”
However, going beyond whatever figures may be produced, the Port Authority points out that what is clear “is the fact that we are already competing at another level. We have shown that without being the Mediterranean, we still have a great market niche, thanks especially to the new cruise pier that enables us to offer three berths and to give us the option to promote ourselves among the main companies without any space restrictions.”
The third berth
The third cruise berth at Bilbao came into operation at the end of May. It has a minimum draft of 11/12 metres, an esplanade area of 25,300m ², and a 355-metre long berthing line. The Port Authority invested 16.5 million euros in this project.
The official inauguration of the third berth coincided with the call of one of the four largest cruise vessels in the world – Royal Caribbean International’s Independence of the Seas – with 4,384 passengers on board.
In 2016, this pier will have a maritime station, whose design is being completed and which is scheduled to be put out to tender in the spring of 2015.