Mystery � are cruise ship visitors worth the trouble?

Source: Malta Today¸ Published 9 July 2014
By Lynsey Schembri is a senior statistician with PKF Malta.

It is not uncommon to read in brochures about the idyllic setting of our Grand Harbour. These show a rising sun which illuminates the buildings surrounding the harbour¸ making the sea shine bright which¸ like a mirror¸ reflects majestically on the beauty and grandeur of the bastions.

Certainly there are only a few ports in the Mediterranean that can match its splendour. Pause for a break and hold your breath as you can enjoy the triumphant entry of a cruise liner carefully manoeuvring its way into the harbour.

This is a view¸ a particular one indeed¸ envied by many¸ enjoyed by few. It goes without saying that this scenario is just the starting point of this nascent industry which was heavily invested by the private sector that in the past decade saw cruise liner visitors hitting our shores. What is still a mystery is why we have never bothered to measure its economic contribution while monitoring the numbers arriving¸ noting their spending patterns. Such a study is long overdue.

For this reason PKF has taken the initiative to compile an economic study that can really and truly gauge the economic benefits. The stark truth is that such an exercise faces untold hurdles. Perhaps surprisingly if one were to attempt to analyse such data¸ unfortunately¸ the ball would simply roll into a space where there is a bleak void with no reliable statistics or data available. Naturally for the Malta Tourist Authority and for Viset¸ the company which invested in berthing facilities¸ this would be a rather interesting study.

It is still a mystery whether the whole activity is profitable and by how much. Of course this can only be professionally assessed if one were to analyse the expenditure habits of these day visitors that arrive on these luxury ships. The challenges the sector is facing is a simple one. Make our port as attractive as possible¸ try to offer the best services and a unique retail experience next to the arrival terminal so that the economy can maximise opportunities from these cruise liners.

The greatest challenge is that all the aforementioned happens in a few hours as it is customary for cruise liners to berth at each port for a short span of time. At PKF we attempted to compile such a study by first utilising current data available to gain an insight on a quest to unravel the mystery surrounding the profitability of the industry and measure its future growth potential.

As is well known¸ the economic crisis of 2008 brought the European economies to a halt and it is not surprising that the cruise liner industry suffered its share of the crisis. Tourism was one of the sectors which were greatly affected by the recession and cruise liner travel was no exception. The sharp fall in the number of cruise liner passengers was felt particularly in 2009 when total cruise liner travellers numbered as few as 439¸630.

The following years were overshadowed by the economic crisis¸ with figures struggling to reach the level achieved in 2008. Thankfully¸ in 2011 slight signs of recovery could be identified with the inertia picking up when the number of total cruise liner passengers mirrored that reached in 2008¸ standing at 556¸564. The sector g