As Chris Allen warms to the topic of global port infrastructure needs for the booming cruise sector in the era of “megaships,” he uses a few numbers to illustrate.
Industry wide, “in 2017 there are 41 cruise ships bigger than 125,000 gross registered tons, bigger than our Voyager-class,” says Royal Caribbean’s vice president of deployment and itinerary planning. “By 2025 that number should double.”
Those 41 ships are nearly twice the number in 2013 – then 23. And today on average they can accommodate more than 4,000 passengers.
“In addition to the ships’ size getting bigger, the absolute capacity coming in is growing at a faster rate,” Allen continues. “Over the last six years the industry grew at about 3.8 percent in terms of the compounded annual growth rate. Going forward for the next six years it’ll be over 6 percent. Not quite doubling, but getting close to that.
“So where do we put the ships,” he asks, rhetorically. “How do we add the infrastructure for that?”
He knows the answers, as does Capt. Emmanouil Alevropoulos, RCL director of global nautical operations and port infrastructure.
“The captains say, ‘The ships become bigger, the ports remain the same,’” Alevropoulos says of the ongoing challenge. “The ports are starting to realize that if they want business with the large cruise ships, they really need to invest in making this possible.”
But some ports can’t handle the load on their own.
“Not many ports in the Caribbean are capable of receiving our Oasis-class, for example,” he explains, referring to the largest in the world. “It is not easy for an island to be able to invest all of this money to make their port capable. That’s why we go sometimes with other investors.”
“Over the past decade, about 100 different ports made investments in improvements to expand infrastructure, bigger ships or just to accommodate ships in general,” Allen says. “And we get involved and we make investments in many ports around the world, and we do it in all sorts of manners, from the small investment to add a tendering pier at a South Pacific island, to the building of Terminal A here in PortMiami.”
Often the need for infrastructure improvements doesn’t stop at the shore and also requires upland development.
“You’ve got to look at the people movement, the tours that are available, all the guest-facing items once the guests get off the ship,” Allen says. “It’s one thing to bring the ship there, but then it’s critical that the guest experience be up to our standards.”