It was a typically gray and blustery December morning in Helsinki when Santiago Garcia-Milà, president of the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH), arrived for the Breaking Waves 2018 summit.
He had come to Finland from Spain, where he also serves as deputy general manager of the Port of Barcelona. No one had to remind him of the climate difference.
“What’s it like in Barcelona? 18 or 20 (degrees),” Garcia-Milàsaid. “What’s it like here? They say it might snow. The thing is to enjoy what you don’t have at home. What you have at home is normal. Do I feel bad here? Not at all. Unless you are a crazy guy who only wants your own comfort.”
His larger point involved the level of cooperation that exists in ports between the cargo and cruise-passenger businesses. It is an issue in Helsinki, which, with about 420,000 sea tourists a year, ranks 65thin the world in busiest cruise ports by passengers. It is a much larger issue in Barcelona, which, with 2.7 million passengers, is No. 7 in the world and the largest cruise destination in Europe.
How cargo and the cruise industry coexist to stimulate economies is one thing. How the cruise industry impacts the social structure of cities is another.
For example, Barcelona not long ago passed a law to curb to tourism in a city that is overwhelmed by about 32 million visitors a year. The law came after more than 25 years of what infuriated locals viewed as the relentless promotion of Barcelona as a tourist destination.
While less than 10 percent of Barcelona’s tourists arrive by ship, Garcia-Milà said it is important that ports do their part to help achieve sustainable tourism.
“The cruise industry is not our prime business,” he said. “Our prime business is to help our industry with cargo. We do (the cruise industry) for the city, for the economy. It’s very clear. I remember 15 or 20 years ago when we were developing the cruise area, most of my colleagues were saying the cruise is not important, the port is for cargo.”
In Europe, the industry’s emphasis remains with cargo with prime destinations such as Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg, the three busiest cargo ports on the continent. However, growth in the cruise industry means economic development in places like Barcelona, the Balearic Islands, Southhampton, Marseille, and Venice, the top cruise destinations in Europe.
Garcia-Milà, former chairman of the European Sea Ports Organization (ESPO), said the emergence of the cruise industry in Barcelona has meant the development of 9,000 jobs and about €600 million annually in economic and social development in terms of contribution to the GDP. At the same time, he said the cruise industry tries to help Barcelona achieve sustainable tourism by educating the passenger.
“We have been trying with a lot of success not to have cruise passengers in the same season,” he said. “We show how they can visit year round so the city is not as crowded. You can come in November and December, too, that it’s not just for sun and going to the beach. You need to tell the people to not just come in July.”
Garcia-Milà said the port of Barcelona works with the city’s mayoral office to strike a proper balance with added value and sustainability by helping to manage the cruise industry.
“Even though we are very big with cruise passengers, it’s only seven percent of our income from the port,” he said. “The huge effect is on the surrounding economy, the city, the neighborhoods. We work with the cruise routes for new routes. We make them aware there are other places they can visit, besides La Rambla, to go and visit different things.”
The same holds true in Helsinki, which can become overcrowded to the dismay of the locals in the summer, when cruise ships unload in the city center. It’s important for Finland to be considered as a year-round destination as well.
“Maybe it’s dark and cold here now,” he said. “I go (to Barcelona) and it’s 20 degrees and sunshine. Fine. But it’s nice for me to come here and to see the snow. I can also come in the summertime with midsummer festivals. We need to tell the people how to enjoy our nature, our cultural differences, climate differences, scenery, to manage and make things so much more sustainable.”
Breaking Waves 2018 brought together European maritime cluster leaders to help forge a successful future for the shipping industry. It was part of Helsinki-based Slush, the world’s largest start-up convention. As part of the event’s think tank, Garcia-Milà said it is important to move forward with the industry’s most pressing issues, including emission reduction and data sharing.
“Our main intention is to help each other,” he said. “We share ideas for good solutions. This is how it works. There are many ideas we can share with implementations to reduce Co2 emissions. That’s mainly on our shoulders.”
Text Michael Hunt
Photo Antero Aaltonen