Forth Ports Head of Cruise, Rob Mason comments on the importance of Cruise Tourism

Monday 13th November 2023

Forth Ports Head of Cruise, Rob Mason comments on the importance of Cruise Tourism

First published in The Herald Agenda column, Saturday 11 November 2023

Everyone has an opinion on cruise holidays it seems. They’re a real Marmite choice. For some, cruise is an anathema – something to be avoided at all costs. For others, once they get the bug, they’re hooked and no sooner have they finished one cruise than they’re booking their next one – a staggering 91% repeat. Meanwhile, cruise is now attracting younger holidaymakers, with the average age of a cruiser now 46.5 years.

So, one thing is certain – cruise is here to stay. Not even the Covid pandemic – which brought the industry to a global standstill – could change that long-term. In fact, Scotland saw 886 cruise calls in 2023 compared to 616 in 2019, bringing over 1 million passengers to our shores. A further increase in numbers is expected in 2024 as the appetite to experience Scotland’s heritage and natural beauty continues.

Six in 10 cruise passengers say they’ve returned to the destination later for a land-based holiday; every cruise passenger generates around £134 of socio-economic benefit for the local area – that’s £100,000 per cruise ship call; and every 24 cruise passengers support one full time job.

Cruise calls also enable curious visitors to experience the remoter parts of Scotland, not accessible for the 3 day week-end break travellers to our airport-served cities.

Of course, there’s the ongoing debate about who benefits from the economic boost that cruise ship visits represent, but it’s clear that the economic impact is positive, helping to sustain local businesses around Scotland’s cruise ports – trade notably lost during the pandemic.

Understandably, a light is being shone on the environmental impact of the industry. Cruise ships comprise less than 1% of the global maritime community, yet the industry can be considered at the forefront of the development of innovative technologies and practices to reduce emissions both at berth and at sea.  Sustainability is not a new priority – let’s not forget the cruise industry was the first maritime sector to publicly commit, in 2018, to reduce carbon emissions by 40% by 2030 compared to 2008. The industry is also accelerating the use of cleaner ships with cruise lines investing in 44 new and technologically advanced ships over the next five years, representing an investment of $62 billion since 2019.

Disappointingly, there’s been an announcement about extending the local visitor levy – a tourism tax – to include cruise vessels, effectively taxing the thousands of cruise passengers who arrive at Scottish ports. The risk is that cruise ships will simply avoid Scotland, which has been the case across other European destinations where cruise lines have removed the ports from their itineraries – with all economic benefit lost. The industry is therefore requesting urgent discussions with the Scottish Government on these proposals.

Scotland has a worldwide reputation for the warmth of its welcome. Cruise passengers, have actively chosen to spend their tourist pound – or dollar or yen – in Scotland and the majority of whom are likely to come back for a longer trip next time. Let’s greet them with open arms.

Rob Mason, Head of Cruise, Forth Ports and Chair of Cruise Scotland