Cruise ships are a Palma issue; no one else’s

Cruise ships are a Palma issue; no one else’s.

04-06-2021G. ALOMAR

Here are some detailed stats for you. In 2019, Palma had 2.2 million cruise passengers, of whom almost a million were home port and so therefore stayed in the city for a period of time and had arrived in Mallorca by plane. Of the four other state ports in the Balearics, Alcudia had 673 passengers, of whom only five were home port. Mahon’s numbers were 43,757 (245 home port), Ibiza’s were 396,387 (1,152), and La Savina’s were zero. In addition, though merely incidental, Soller had 88 passengers (all stopovers) and Cala Ratjada 71, also all in transit.

In Majorca, it hardly needs saying, there is only port that matters. The secondary cruise port, Alcudia, experienced a slump in passenger numbers between 2016 and 2019 from a high of 5,901 to 673. A port that can accommodate only one ship at a time, and that of limited length, Alcudia is irrelevant in the overall cruise scheme of things other than in being a sort of “boutique” port for the occasional small ship. The town hall, which doesn’t have the say regarding the arrival of any type of ship - the Balearic Ports Authority does - has promoted the port at international fairs in the past but has no interest in large ships, which is as well, given that they wouldn’t be able to dock.

So let’s ignore Alcudia as well as Cala Ratjada and Puerto Soller, which are even less relevant. But while we’re at it, should we ignore Palma as well and Mahon and Ibiza for that matter? I ask the question because whenever a news item regarding cruise ships goes on to the Bulletin website, it is more or less always the case that it generates a very low reader view number.

I recognise the total lack of science behind the conclusion, but does this indicate a lack of interest in cruise ships and cruise tourism in Mallorca? I suppose you would have to say that it does, and yet here is a subject which - for various reasons - commands a great deal of attention in Majorca itself. Cruise ships are controversial because they have been made controversial, the giant ones in particular.

The importance of cruise tourism is reflected in the figures above; the figures for Palma at any rate. These numbers come from the Balearic tourism ministry’s annual report, which - among other things - itemises arrivals by air and sea and numbers of tourists. Although the sources of information for arrivals and tourist numbers are different, they suggest that 18.7% of the 11.87 million tourists in Mallorca in 2019 (foreign and national combined) were on Palma cruises.

For the sake of tourist numbers calculation, the ministry explains in its notes, “excursionistas” who don’t make overnight stays are included. These are day trippers and so are therefore mainly cruise passengers on stopovers of some hours duration - 1.24 million of these passengers were in transit in 2019.

The assumption regarding the 18.7% and what is 10.4% for cruise passengers in transit may not be wholly watertight because of the different sources that may conflict to some degree. Even so, it must be roughly accurate and as such it says something about all the talk of tourist “saturation”, if one is aware that ten per cent of tourists are in fact cruise day trippers, only a percentage of whom ever leave Palma (and there are some who never disembark).

There are, as I say, different reasons why cruise ships command the attention they do. Human saturation is just one. In addition, we know all about the competing arguments regarding the environmental impact and the level of spending. With regard to the latter, the ‘Sí als Creuers’ lobby (Yes to Cruise Ships) is breathing a sigh of relief at the news that Spain’s merchant marine directorate has given the all-clear for international cruises to dock at Spanish ports and indeed to have Spanish home ports.

While there are those who say cruise passengers spend virtually nothing, there are those who say that they most certainly do and that they have great reliance on them. Jordi Mora, the president of the Pimem federation of small to medium-sized businesses, is a key figure in Sí als Creuers. His federation includes, among many, the Pimeco small retailers. He has pretty much said that, without cruise passengers, small retailers in Palma are stuffed.

But, and here’s the thing, Mora is talking about Palma retailers, not about shops in Calvia, Alcudia or any other main tourist municipality. Herein, it seems to me, lies the rub. Cruise ships are a Palma issue; no one else’s. An apparent lack of interest in cruise ships may therefore reflect this, and this applies to people living on the island as well as to those who visit and who stay all over the island and, irrespective of that figure of 18.7%, are not cruise tourists.

Not bothered? Maybe, but the importance in general terms and because of the arguments means that we have to be.

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