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Cruise business discusses ways out of the crisis provoked by the pandemic: Odesa port participated in the VI Black Sea Working Group Meeting

Quarantine, introduced in most European countries due to the coronavirus pandemic, raised an issue of the 2020 cruise season in the Black Sea passenger ports. The port authorities of Istanbul, Trabzon, Constanta and Varna are already receiving letters from tour operators about the cancellation of cruise ship calls scheduled for May-June. A similar situation is seen in Odesa, where 3 of 11 declared cruise vessels with a foreign flag were canceled for ship calls, as well as all 27 calls of river-sea vessels. But, despite the closed borders and international traffic, the tourism community continues the activity.


These and other facts were announced at the 6th Black Sea Working Group meeting on cruise tourism development (MedCruise Black Sea Working Group Meeting) held on May 5 as an online conference. The moderators of the conference were Airam Diaz Pastor, President of MEDCRUISE, the Association of Cruise Companies of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea Region, and Theodor Patrichi, Director of MEDCRUISE for the Black Sea Region.


The Odesa branch of Ukrainian Sea Ports Authority was represented at the conference by Denis Karpov, deputy general manager of Odesa branch of the ‘USPA’ for operational services, and Julia Strikh, deputy head of the external relations department.


During the meeting of the Working Group, the world cruise industry was noted, in particular, to be among the sectors most affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Today, almost all cruise companies have suspended their work for several months. The market price of cruises daily loses value, and large shipping companies bear huge losses. The Black Sea region, where a breakthrough in the cruise shipping development was expected this year after five years of forced pause, feels the impact of the pandemic especially sharply.


Due to these circumstances, the participants of the meeting agreed to postpone the 56th General Assembly of MedCruise, which was supposed to be held at the end of May in Costa Brava (Spain). At the same time, it is still planned to hold all the main events of the General Assembly: plenary meetings, sessions of directions, negotiations with representatives of cruise lines, etc. in Skype conference format.


Besides, the agenda of the meeting was the priority of the Seatrade Cruise Med 2020 exhibition, subject to be held in mid-September in Malaga (Spain). Given the cancellation of the main world cruise industry forum this year, the global Seatrade Cruise Global 2020 (planned for April), the leading cruise market players were optimistic about an exhibition in Spain. However, the difficult epidemic in most countries of the continent, the closure of borders and the suspension of air traffic reduce the possibility to conduct this event every day too.


According to the President of MedCruise, the situation is changing almost daily and it is safe to assume that Spanish international borders will be closed until the end of summer.


Mr. Airam Diaz Pastor noted that the situation is influenced by the fact that the participation in the Seatrade Cruise Med 2020 of representatives of the leading world companies of cruise business, which have to come from the USA, Great Britain, France, Italy and Germany, was questioned. The listed countries have not yet announced the lifting of quarantine restrictions. Therefore, the Secretariat of the MedCruise Association has set itself the challenge of holding the necessary consultations with all interested parties by the end of May and deciding on the feasibility of conducting the Seatrade Cruise Med 2020 exhibition.


As a separate issue on the agenda, the participants of the VI Black Sea Working Group meeting discussed the Black Sea region situation and agreed that the Medcruise Executive Directorate, the Black Sea Working Group entities, along with representatives of other ports participating in the association will join forces to restore cruise shipping as soon as possible after quarantine cancellation.


‘An expert committee created by the Medcruise Association will implement this decision’, D.Karpov said. ‘The committee will act as a communicator between cruise companies and the passenger ports of the region. The experts will observe the quarantine situation in specific coastal cities, analyze the effectiveness of security measures undertaken by the authorities regarding the requirements of the cruise business. At first, the working conditions of service enterprises, cultural institutions, and tour services will come into their view. Thus, each member of the Black Sea Working Group will contribute to obtaining objective information on the cruise ports situation during the pandemic and at all stages of quarantine exit’


As D. Karpov further noted, the VI Black Sea Working Group meeting was held in an atmosphere of cautious optimism, facilitated by the fact that tour operators held back on announcing the cancellation of cruise programs approved for the near future. Thus, for example, today, Odesa port has 19 applications for calls of cruise ships for the next year and 10 applications for the season 2022.


The next meeting of the Black Sea Working Group is preliminarily scheduled for mid-end June this year.


Reference. Odesa Sea Port Authority initiated an international conference on the revival of the Black Sea cruise shipping in Odesa in October 2018. To solve the tasks enshrined in the resolution of the conference, a permanent working group, the Black Sea Working Group, was created, which included representatives of the passenger ports of Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria and the MedCruise Association. In 2019, Turkish ports joined this advisory body.