A New Kid on the Block: Black Sea Region & Cruise Tourism

Having concluded the Black Sea Tourism Forum & Workshop which took place in Athens on 10-11 October 2013 offering great insights by top international and regional tourism experts on Black Sea Region tourism developments and international trends, we would like to share with you the key insights from the study on Cruise Tourism in the Black Sea Region prepared by abouTourism on behalf of the United Nations Development Programme – ‘Black Sea Trade and Investment Programme’ (UNDP BSTIP).

What does it take for emerging sea cruise destinations to establish themselves in a highly competitive market?

That was a key debate during the 2nd Posidonia Sea Tourism Forum, especially with respect to the Black Sea Region (BSR) which has only lately appeared in the geography of cruise industry.

A response provided by abouTourism consultants, as part of a report prepared for the ‘United Nations Development Programme – Black Sea Trade and Investment Programme’ (UNDP BSTIP), is that individual destinations, physically coupled in a large geographical zone, are not going to benefit from cruise passengers visiting these localities unless they set common targets and coordinate their efforts.

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A straight explanation is that cruise lines do not only examine the local availability of adequate infrastructure, low tariffs, or a plethora of on-shore activities for their clients while building a destination portfolio. Much depends as well on security terms, reinforcement facilities, and the combination of different types of attractions. The latter factors are assessed by cruise lines at a regional scale, which explains why the cruise industry is usually divided into large zones, among which the Caribbean and the Mediterranean have traditionally had the lion’s share in port calls and cruise passengers.

Thus, there is much at stake for emerging destinations in the BSR not merely because of the industry’s capacity to sustain trends of positive growth throughout the emergence and escalation of the economic crisis and its potential to penetrate in new source markets, among which are included the countries of Russia and Turkey. In considering the industry’s consolidated structure, with four companies accounting for 86% of global market, the incorporation of the BSR in future deployment trends depends both on private sector strategy and the flexibility of authorities at a regional and local level to upgrade their territories, promote them in a consistent manner, and effectively negotiate partnership terms with cruise lines.

This argument is consistent with the recent experience of a series of regional practices from the Southeast Asia, the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean discussed in the report. In terms of developing new itineraries, investing in port facilities, undertaking place marketing, and assessing the visitors’ impact, these examples illustrate the usefulness of supranational bodies and international associations as flexible networks with a clear agenda and a visionary mission founded on shared values. Without ignoring challenges that arise from the current economic climate, geopolitical conditions and the lack of a well-established brand for the whole area, intra-regional collaboration in the case of the BSR is examined as a means to foster sound policies aimed at enhancing cruise tourism product quality, competing for market share, and increasing mutual benefits for all countries and parties involved.

The countries that surround the inland sea and compose a cultural mosaic of various traditions have had their own distinctive approaches to policy-making for mass and alternative tourism, with some of them recording substantial, if not drastic in some cases increases of international tourist arrivals over the last decade. It is a fact, however, that the BSR has not yet capitalized on its proximity and close relationships with Mediterranean destinations, maintaining a cruise tourism market share consistently less than one per cent within the whole Mediterranean.

It can also be said that partnership building may be difficult, when territorial variations shape the ways in which each member state of the BSTIP tackles the debate of cruise tourism. Most of the member countries of UNDP BSTIP are basically preoccupied with the expansion of their sea cruise destinations (Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and Greece), some countries are gradually making their path to the market of river cruises (Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania, Serbia, and Ukraine), while others can only examine how they can gain secondary benefits from the expansion of cruises in the BSR (Armenia and Azerbaijan).

Nevertheless, there have also been encouraging signs. From an institutional perspective, this report has come at a time of ongoing deliberations among the Black Sea port authorities and other stakeholders, especially with respect to a recently established project under the brand name ‘Cruise Black Sea’ (CBS). With the explicit aim of strengthening cooperation between the participants in the field of cruises development in the BSR and promoting the regional ports internationally as a united cruise destination, the CBS project appears to provide an adequate framework for conducting marketing research with a regional focus and playing an industry-specific, yet by no means negligible role in cultivating or stabilizing bilateral relationships.

Interestingly, the CBS initiative has not only been associated with an increasing awareness across the BSR of the importance of multiculturalism as a term that captures conceptually both the essence of the region’s history and the major source of tourist attraction for cruise passengers. More importantly, it has also coincided with a pattern of growth for 2013, with more cruise lines arriving at the BSR in order to take advantage of ongoing improvements in port infrastructure, the relatively short sailing distances among the Black Sea ports, and the wealth of cultural and natural attractions allocated among 20 destinations.

Undertaking a detailed analysis of these issues, the report has set a thematic agenda for a vivid dialogue between UNDP-BSTIP and the main parties involved in cruise tourism, basically including port authorities and cruise lines. The time is appropriate for such a dialogue because of late signs of growth in the region’s overall tourism sector and particularly in cruise tourism. Multiculturalism is not merely a concept that summarizes what makes the BSR a composition of attractive tourist destinations. People in cruise industry need to deal with this condition in a daily routine, because doing regional business means doing regional partnerships. Port authorities are right to believe that a unified brand will help the cruise industry regionally, but this could be part of a greater strategy incorporating in a systematic manner the concerns and interests of various localities and stakeholders .

What the examples of other regions show is that complex problems can rarely be understood without collaboration, let alone solved. On these grounds, the report also draws the industry’s attention to a few more issues that will shape the future of cruise tourism in the BSR.

  • The special role of Istanbul especially in the light of new infrastructure investments and the growing expansion of Turkish Airlines;
  • Connection between ports and airports across the BSR; development of itineraries, fly-cruise operations, homeports, and the future role of Odessa;
  • Legislative framework and funding sources of the important investments that currently take place in many ports (e.g. Burgas, Sevastopol, Sochi, Batumi, etc); exchange of views over the experience of concessions;
  • Integration of infrastructure investments with urban regeneration plans;
  • Development of a common tariff policy;
  • Visa arrangements;
  • Development of shore activities on the basis of common quality standards and with the aim of promoting further the tourism product of each locality and country;
  • Influence of Mega-events such as the winter Olympics and the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Sochi in 2014;

Check out the Presentation below for full information: 

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