The importance of cruise ships to the Cornish economy has been highlighted again this week, with the 2013 season worth an estimated £1.68 million to the local economy.
But the future looks less certain as 14 fewer ships – and crucially almost 5,000 fewer passengers – are scheduled to call at Falmouth next year.
Falmouth has been an increasingly popular stop for cruise ships, with 34 cruises and around 22,000 passengers calling at the port in 2012 and 37 cruises with 21,038 passengers in 2013. But bookings for 2014 have dropped to just 23 ships with 16,500 passengers.
Mike Reynolds, port operations director at A&P Falmouth, said: “It is impossible to underestimate the importance of cruise calls to the local economy – not just to Falmouth, but to the whole county.
“Unfortunately next year’s bookings are not looking so good. The large American cruise lines, notably Princess Cruises, have decided not to come to Falmouth, citing tendering passengers ashore as something they don’t want to offer. As a result the largest number of passengers on any single ship next year will be 1,250 whereas in 2013 there were three ships with more than this.
“One optimistic note is the return of at least three turnaround cruises from the MV Funchal for the first time since 2008.”
And Reynolds says that given the depth restrictions of the channel into Falmouth harbour, there is unlikely to be any increase in cruise numbers unless dredging takes place as the larger ships are reliant on good weather, otherwise they divert to ports with alongside facilities like Cork and Brest.
He added: “Six years ago Falmouth handled 60,000 cruise callers per annum, but as cruise liners and other vessels get bigger, then the older, smaller ships that use Falmouth now are being pensioned off and Falmouth is down to 21,000 passengers this year.
“The solution is infrastructure capable of taking some of the largest ships in the world, such as the Freedom of the Seas – 340m long, 150,000t with 4,000 passengers and 1,500 crew that when visiting would put nearly half a million pounds in the Cornish economy in a single day.”
Of the 37 ships which called into Falmouth this year there were 56 different nationalities among the passengers, with more than 7,000 German visitors, closely followed by Americans and British.
Half of the passengers chose to take part in shore excursions covering the country from Lands End to Lanhydrock, while the remainder were welcomed into Falmouth itself by the town’s highly regarded Cruise Ship Ambassadors.