The Malta Tourism Authority will be embarking on a drive to promote the cruise-and-stay niche market in the coming months, Parliamentary Secretary for Tourism Mario de Marco said yesterday.
Speaking about the importance of the resilient and growing cruise lining industry from aboard the MSC Poesia, which was on its maiden call in Grand Harbour, Dr de Marco said the plan was to have passengers starting or ending their trip in Malta, rather than just staying for a couple of hours.
He said the intensified marketing initiative was being undertaken with the collaboration of Malta International Airport, Viset and cruise liner operators.
Three major operators have already confirmed they would be selling cruise-and-stay packages, using Malta as a departure.
MSC Cruises general sales agent Hamilton Travel has been working on the cruise-and-stay concept for three years, but on a small scale, its chairman and managing director Norman Hamilton said.
The “experiment” resulted in about eight cabins a week being allocated to cruise-and-stay passengers but it is anticipated that, with the launch of the MSC Splendida in July, the figure could double.
The 133,500-tonne, 333-metre MSC Splendida, the largest ship to be commissioned by a European company, will be arriving in Malta two days after its launch on July 13. Carrying 4,000 passengers, as opposed to the Poesia’s 3,000, the Splendida will be calling at Malta 20 consecutive weeks between July and November.
The quay at the Valletta Waterfront will be extended to accommodate the “floating village”, 40 metres longer than the current flagship Poesia and five storeys higher.
The government has also decided to invest in increasing Senglea’s Boiler Wharf berths, because space is running out in the harbour, particularly on Fridays.
“It needs to be a Friday every day of the week,” Dr de Marco insisted, referring to the fact that Friday is a busy day for cruise ships.
Other plans include a study of the berth at Marsamxetto Harbour, always in the context of sustainable development, he said.
The berthing buoy outside Xlendi was already bearing fruit, showing Gozo’s potential as a cruise lining destination and the benefits for the economy of vessels doing two stops.
Valletta was the sixth most popular port of call in the Mediterranean, said Dr de Marco, pointing out the need to spread passengers around the various tourist attractions.
The big influx of passengers at particular hours to St John’s Co-Cathedral also needed to be spread out, he said.
It was the first time the number of cruise liner passengers arriving in Malta has reached 500,000 – a figure expected to rise to 530,000 by the end of the year, marking an increase of 12 per cent over last year, Dr de Marco said.
In October, cruise passenger traffic increased by 14,535 over the same month last year, he said, pointing out that the industry had grown from 70,000 in 1996. The plan was to consolidate 2008’s record figures.
The average expenditure of each cruise passenger was $77, meaning an injection of around €40 million into the economy, Dr de Marco said, highlighting the importance of the industry for business here and convinced it had a “big future”.
Regarding the global recession, Dr de Marco’s attitude was to “work as though there were none”.
Both tourism and the cruise lining industry have proven to be more resilient to the recession, and although people may be travelling less, they still wanted to, he said.
The MSC family also includes the Fantasia, which is being launched next month. In 2009, MSC should be bringing 90,000 passengers to Malta, and by 2012, it should have the most modern fleet in the world, composed of 14 vessels.