Barcelona (CNA).- The ‘Harmony of the Seas’ is the world’s biggest cruiser ship, and, Sunday 12th, , it started its first trip in the Mediterranean from Barcelona. The Royal Caribbean cruise company chose the Catalan capital as the base for their Mediterranean cruisers, making Barcelona the only city in the world whose port has been a turnaround port for the company’s three biggest ships. All in, the ‘Harmony of the Seas’ is huge; it has capacity for nearly 9,000 people, it weighs more than two hundred thousand tons and its luxurious interior includes two surf simulators, a natural park with more than 12,000 plants, and the highest slide possible inside a ship. Barcelona is used to cruise activity: this year, more than two and a half million passengers are expected to disembark at the Port of Barcelona during the 750 stopovers expected to be made by the 40 cruise companies operating in the port. Specifically, the economic impact brought by ‘Harmony of the Seas’ is expected to be some 30 million euros. As for the unwanted effects of the cruise activity in the city on tourism, it is speculated that while more tourist activity does indeed mean more congestion, the very nature of cruise travel may help to “dilute” it.
More than 362 metres long, 66 metres wide, and 72 metres high, the ‘Harmony of the Sea’ cruise ship is the equivalent of a floating 20-storey building. The gross weight of the vessel totals at 227,000 tons, and the ship can hold up to 9,000 people, of which 6,410 can be passengers and 2,100 will be crew members. These dizzying figures that make up the measurements of ‘Harmony of the Sea’ currently place the gargantuan ship as the largest in the world. The Royal Caribbean cruise company has chosen Barcelona as a base port for its Mediterranean cruises. Consequently, on Sunday, this ‘giant’ of the seas, barely having left the French shipyard where it was recently built, reached the Catalan capital. With 18 decks, among its many attractions the ‘Harmony of the Sea’ boasts the tallest water slide to be found on a ship, two surf simulators, and a natural interior with more than 12,000 plants. Until October, the ship will carry out five- and seven-night cruises in the Mediterranean, after which it will set sail for the Caribbean.
Two years after the passage of the ‘little sisters’ of ‘Harmony of the Seas’ (the ‘Oasis of the Seas’ and the ‘Allure of the Seas’), Royal Caribbean has once again opted for the Catalan capital, making it the only city in the world to be a turnaround port for all three of the company’s largest boats. This was explained to the media by Belén Wangüemert, CEO of Royal Caribbean in Spain and France. Wangüemert added that on the 22 routes that the ship will sail this summer, the vessel will transport 150,000 passengers in total, and the economic impact will be of about 30 million euros.
“Barcelona is an interesting city (to us) because of our international traveller profile”, the CEO of the company stated, referring to the “cultural and gastronomic offerings” of the city. These attractions, according to the board of Royal Caribbean, can also be added to “good airport connectivity” and how well the port terminals function. The president of the Port of Barcelona, Sixte Cambra, highlighted that this aspect of the infrastructure can count as its “key factors” the “versatility” and the “efficiency” of the terminal, which can operate individually or together in order to accommodate large cruisers.
The “Barcelona model” for ports
Cambra signalled the Port of Barcelona’s commitment to consolidating itself as the “home port” for cruise companies. This factor now represents 60% of the global movement of cruise passengers who annually contribute 450 million euros to Catalonia’s GDP. The Port’s president also added that in the last few years Barcelona has consistently made a name for itself as the best global turnaround port, a recognition awarded by the Seatrade Cruise Global congress in Miami. "We can speak of a ‘Barcelona model’ regarding ports", stated Sixtus Cambra, adding that the next challenge to meet is “consolidation”.
As for the critics of the tourist model that the cruise activity may bring, the president of the Port of Barcelona conceded that “all views on economic activities in the area of the city are quite respectable”. Cambra also recalled that these assessments make up the “context” which “Barcelona’s great success in tourism” represents and “how to make it compatible” with the lives of the locals. In this regard, he offered “cooperation” in order to maintain Barcelona’s “privileged position” with the involved parties, along with the “normal coexistence of citizens”. “As a public entity, if we hope to enhance the activity of cruises as a strategic priority, it is for the benefit it brings to the city. There is neither a business line, nor a preservation of corporate interests”, he clarified, insisting that the wealth coming from cruise activity contributes to the Catalan capital.
A floating giant with all kinds of activitie
In addition to its huge dimensions, the ‘Harmony of the Seas’ has all kinds of entertainment on board. The cruiser is divided into seven areas including a ‘Central Park’, with more than 10,000 plants and flowers, and the Royal Promenade Fitness and Spa area. There is an interactive water park for children, surf simulators and the ‘Ultimate Abyss’ dry slide with a drop equivalent to ten floors of the cruiser. For those who want a water slide, well, they also have access to ‘The Perfect Storm’, a trio of water slides. As for eating and drinking, there are a total of 20 restaurants and many bars, among them, a fully automated cocktail bar where drinks are prepared and served by articulated robotic arms.
The 2011 record expected to be equalled
Barcelona is no stranger to high port activity, and 2016 is expected to be a highly successful year. Indeed, this year the Port of Barcelona forecasts receiving 2.6 million cruise passengers, equalling the figures of 2011, through 750 stopovers and the 40 cruise companies operating at the port. In 2016, a growth in turnaround passengers is also expected. In 2015, this number grew by 11.5% compared with the year before and recorded 202 more euros in average daily spending, according to the Deputy General Director of Commercial Strategy, Santiago Garcia-Mila, based on the Economic Impact of Activity Cruise in the Port Study presented by the UB.
Back in September of 2015, Professor of Applied Economics at UB, Jordi Suriñach, reflected on the cruise activity seen in January of that year, noting the negative effects it had had on the city, for example, the increased congestion in tourist areas. However, it seems that this could also have positive repercussions: Suriñach argued that due to the nature of cruise ship tourism, this could also help to “dilute” the congestion itself, spreading it out over a larger number of days. As for the environmental effects, the professor stated that the cruise ships produce only 1.2% of the nitrous oxide and 0.2% of the solid particles suspended in the city’s air.
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