This Thursday, 16 November, the Port of Bilbao brings to a close an excellent cruise season which, for the second year running, has seen record numbers in terms of stopovers and passengers. The last cruise ship of the year, 238 metres long and carrying 1,098 passengers, will be the Bolette, owned by the Fred Olsen company. This vessel, the agents of which are A. Pérez y Cía., will dock at around 08.30h and will depart at 20.00h.
In total, 80 cruise ships have docked at the Port Authority’s cruise terminal in Getxo this year, with lengths ranging from 126 to 348 metres. They have brought 148,791 passengers to the Basque Country, most of them transit passengers, i.e. passengers who call at the port and later depart the same evening to continue their cruise after seeing a little of what Bilbao, Bizkaia and the Basque Country have to offer. Four of these cruise ships have spent the night in Getxo and one of them, the Norwegian Gem, made what is known as a turn around, starting its voyage in Bilbao on 7 September and returning to finish it on 19 September. The majority of tourists have either been from the UK (41%), North America (27%) or Germany (13%).
Ricardo Barkala, President of the Port Authority of Bilbao, believes the season has been very positive. “We continue to position the Port of Bilbao and its terminal in Getxo on the route of the major cruise shipping companies, and this is making a significant contribution to the increase in tourism in the Basque Country and, by extension, to boosting our economy. As a result, we continue to support this activity and to promote the development of the economic fabric of Bizkaia and the Basque Country”.
“In a sector as competitive as the cruise sector, the shipping companies choose Bilbao because of the infrastructure and services it offers, the operability of the terminal, the flexibility and ease with which stopovers can be managed and the convenience for their passengers”, Barkala pointed out, also mentioning “the unquestionable attraction of the Basque Country and the rich and varied cultural, monumental, natural and gastronomic offer of our immediate surroundings” as other reasons why the shipping companies choose Bilbao for their stopovers.
In 2019, 50 cruise ships arrived at the Port of Bilbao. In 2020, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, cruises were suspended in Spain and in other European countries, but in August 2021, this traffic was resumed and a total of 14 calls were made. 2022 began with cruise ships with few passengers on board and a record number of 78 cruise ships was reached, which will be exceeded again this year.
The cruise ships that stopped over in Getxo in 2023 have included vessels from companies that regularly visit the port, shipping companies that have chosen this destination for the first time and 13 cruise ships that were making their first call. On several occasions, up to three cruise ships have coincided in Getxo on the same day, and in April, May, June, August, September and October, two cruise ships a day were handled on several occasions.
Forecasts and a new project for greater sustainability
Forecasts in the cruise sector are difficult to make, as there are many variables that can affect the number of berths. However, the objective for 2024 is to maintain the number of stopovers achieved this season. “Together with Getxo Turismo, Bilbao Turismo and the Basque Government Office of Tourism, we are gradually showcasing the considerable potential that the Basque Country has for cruises, and we are doing so both with the excellent infrastructure we have equipped and continue to equip the terminal with, and through the service provided by our people”, Mr. Barkala highlighted.
In this sense, the next major project that the Port Authority has launched to improve service delivery to the sector and, in turn, contribute to environmental sustainability, is the BilbOPS project to deploy OPS technology in several of the port’s docks, including the cruise ship docks. The project will provide an onshore power supply to vessels at berth, thereby reducing CO2 emissions and vibration and noise levels. To do so, a subsea cable will be laid across the river from Santurtzi to Getxo. The overall budget of the BilbOPS project stands at around 47.5 million euros, with 30% co-funded by the European Commission through the CEF Transport 2021-2027 programme. The facilities will be operational in early 2026.
In addition to meetings, contacts, visits and intense commercial activity, the Port Authority of Bilbao will continue to participate, as it does year after year, in different trade fairs and events in the sector to promote Bilbao/Bizkaia/the Basque Country as a cruise destination. In 2024, it will participate in the two major trade fairs of the sector: in April, at Seatrade Cruise Global (Miami Beach, Florida), and in September, at Seatrade Med (Malaga).