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Venice forecasts decline of cruise passengers again in 2016 as ship ban drags on

by Barbara Ganz

Fewer passengers, more ships: this is what the situation looks like at the moment for cruise operators in Venice. In 1997, cruise passengers were 300,000, while in 2013 that number came to a record or 1.8 million passengers.

From January 1 2014, large cruise ships have been banned from the St. Mark’s and Giudecca canals; from 2015 cruise companies have decided that only ships up to 96,000 gross tons can dock in the Venice lagoon, waiting for the approval of an alternative route to visit Venice.

This ban was overturned by the Regional Administrative Tribunal (TAR), but companies have respected it voluntarily as they await new rules. The result has been a decline in cruise passengers visiting the city.

Venice's cruise terminal (VPT) recently took stock of the last season and of the upcoming one.

“Traffic forecasts for 2016 envisage the movement of 1.55 million passengers, for a total of 529 dockings and 38 scheduled companies; last year there were 521 dockings for 1.58 million passengers,” said the VPT president Sandro Trevisanato.

“If we hadn't acted on several fronts -- by betting on improving passengers reception and luggage-handling standards and hadn’t also enhanced our visibility within the port area -- we would have risked losing up to 60% of the passengers, meaning those travelling on board of the largest ships,” added Trevisanato.

Instead, the 2015 drop “stopped at 7%. But if the regulation doesn't change soon, Trevisanato explained,“we risk a decline as quick as the growth we had in a sector that all things considered is worth around €450 million per year. According to the latest report by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), Venice's economy has already lost €40 million between 2014 and 2015, in terms of direct expenditure coming from passengers, crews and ships, as a direct consequence of the 96,000 gross tons limit.”

The damage was limited thanks to the good relationships entertained with most shipping companies which increased the number of dockings, said the CEO Roberto Perocchio.

But the fact is that “47 new cruise ships will be ready by 2021, out of which 38 exceed the limit applied in Venice. A business that is worth $35 billion,” says the president of VTP.

This is the reason for two requests sent to the Italian government.

”Our first request is to find an alternative channel to guarantee the passage of large ships away from St Mark’s: a quick decision should be made after the necessary technical assessments,”explained Trevisanato. “And we think that the only alternative is the Tresse Nuovo channel.”

“Secondly, the government should pass a new law overruling the illogical limit that was already thrown out by the TAR court but is still respected by cruise companies: a limit which constitutes a paradox since it cuts Venice out of the itineraries of the most modern and technologically advanced ships,” concludes Trevisanato.

Things, he says, must be done quickly.

“The new Chinese ownership of the port of Athens will invest €120 million in cruises, and ports such as Cuba are billing themselves as new welcoming destinations. Once certain ships are excluded from Venice, they won't come back,” he said.