Page last updated at 10:15 GMT, Friday, 6 November 2009

'Capture cruise market', say MPs

The huge Maasdam cruise ship docked at Milford Haven last year

Wales could rival popular European ports in capturing the leisure cruise market, it is claimed.

Welsh MPs say huge growth in the cruise market in the last ten years must be seized to boost the economy of communities around ports in Wales.

But the number of cruise liners visiting the country is limited by the lack of facilities at Welsh ports.

The Welsh Affairs Committee is urging the UK Government to support investment to improve facilities.

The report, which looked at the importance of ports in Wales to communities and the economy, said promoting Wales alongside other British and Irish ports was a priority.

It is an exciting possibility that Welsh ports ... could in the future rival the Baltic cruise market
Dr Hywel Francis MP

Committee chairman, Dr Hywel Francis MP, said: "There is a great deal of untapped potential just waiting to be mined in the cruise market which could bring significant economic, business and tourism opportunities to local communities in and around Welsh ports, and to the wider economy.

"It is an exciting possibility that Welsh ports, along with Irish ports, could in the future rival the Baltic cruise market which has seen rapid growth in recent years.

"But the necessary investment must happen if this is to become a reality."

The MPs want the Department for Transport and the assembly government to develop "a distinctive ports policy for Wales" to identify where to target investment.

Alison Belton, chief executive of Pembrokeshire Tourism, said action was already being taken in Milford Haven where a "cruise director" was dedicated to attracting cruise liners from around the world.

'Massive growth market'

"There's been about six cruise ships into Milford Haven in the last year. It doesn't sound a lot but one of them was the 3,500-passenger Maasdam," she said.

"The main issue is that there aren't berthing facilities at Milford Haven - they have to berth on tenders but that's not that different to other areas in the Med [Mediterranean]."

She added that passengers were sometimes only on shore for about two or three hours but it was a "massive growth market".

Milford Haven Port Authority had estimated that the Maasdam's visit was worth up to £170,000 to the local economy.

Milford has also joined forces with the ports of Cardiff, Swansea, Holyhead and Fishguard to form Cruise Wales, aimed at attracting more ships.

Anglesey council also recently secured European funding of 1.2m euros for the Celtic Wave project to develop the port destinations of Anglesey, Milford Haven, Swansea, Dublin, Waterford and Cork.

'Crucial role'

Newport welcomed its first cruise ship this summer, with passengers visiting the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Castle and Dyffryn Gardens in Vale of Glamorgan.

The cruise industry is also creating 300 temporary jobs at Swansea Dry Dock with a £20m cruise liner refit.

A Department for Transport (DoT)spokesperson said that ports played a "crucial role in the life of our country".

"We already have a long-standing policy covering ports in both England and Wales, which leaves them free to operate in a competitive, open market without the need for public subsidy," he said.

"We will be responding fully to the report in due course."

But Prof Stuart Cole, director of the Wales Transport Research Centre, University of Glamorgan, said he believed the DoT had misread the situation in Wales.

"What's really needed is investment in facilities for these ships to actually tie-up, as it where, alongside," he argued.

"I think they've got it wrong, alarmingly. They don't understand, presumably, the economics of the cruise market.

"To say that you can't intervene in the cruise market I think is misguided, or maybe based on the experience of much bigger ports in England.

"We have the kind of facilities, historic, cultural, gardens those kinds of things which cruise customers like to visit."

The Welsh Assembly Government said it was fully aware of the "positive economic impact" of cruise liners and was "working to ensure Welsh ports can benefit from these".

A spokesperson said: "For example in Holyhead we are funding work to reinforce one of the mooring points to ensure it is capable of securing larger liners, such as the 285m-long Westerdam which carries 2,000 passengers due to visit Holyhead next summer.

"We will also be procuring a new gangway for the jetty for use by cruise liner passengers for the 2010 season.

"We also support the Cruise Wales Partnership, which aims to maximise the use of Welsh ports as a cruise ship destination."

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