The Costa Smeralda in Palma early last year. | Reuters


The boom in cruise tourism since the start of the century came to a grinding halt last year. There was a general stoppage of activity, punctuated by only some cruises offered under strict health conditions in the Mediterranean and the Baltic until the second wave of the virus broke out in Europe. There were, for example, stopovers in Greece and Malta, while German cruise operators were active in the Baltic.

Otherwise, the stoppage was total - in the UK, in the US and in Spain. A consequence of this was that entire fleets were docked in different parts of Europe and the world. The cruise lines have been looking to this coming spring for a reactivation if infection rates come down, but experience since the start of the pandemic has been one of cancellations because of circumstances.

Across the globe, some 300 ships and 100,000 crew are inactive. The maintenance costs are astronomical, and meanwhile there is no income. Some operators have been unable to deal with this situation, such as the Spanish Pullmantur and the British Cruise & Maritime Voyages.

The situation is comparable with that during the two world wars, and it is one that in Mallorca is looked on with despondency by sectors such as the restaurants and the coach operators. On the other hand, there is a segment of the population which has been celebrating, as the centre of Palma has not been overrun with tourists and contamination has been cut.

No cruise ship has docked in Palma since March. Cruise ship stopovers, it is calculated, generate an average of some 300,000 euros. This is the sort of figure that has been quoted often enough in the context of the arguments about cruise tourism. These reached their peak when up to eight ships with 25,000 passengers were arriving on a single day. The Balearics, given the islands' geographical location and air connectivity with Europe, had become one of the principal destinations in terms of cruise passenger numbers - around two million per annum.

Right now, the situation is a complete unknown. The president of the Balearic Ports Authority, Francesc Antich, says that it is difficult to be able to offer any prediction as to when cruise tourism might restart in 2021. All that is possible to say is that when activity returns, it will be "under the health security measures required by the relevant authorities". "We are working to find the best way of making prevention of the disease compatible with a reactivation of this tourism sector."