The Italy-IORA webinar on Developing Sustainable Cruise Tourism took place virtually as part of the 11th edition of “Diplomacy – Festival della Diplomazia” on Wednesday, 21 October 2020. The Commonwealth of Australia, People’s Republic of Bangladesh, Union of Comoros, Republic of India, Republic of Indonesia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Republic of Madagascar, Republic of Maldives, Republic of Mauritius, Republic of Mozambique, Sultanate of Oman, Republic of Seychelles, Republic of South Africa, Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, Arab Republic of Egypt, Federal Republic of Germany, Republic of Italy, Republic of Turkey, and the United Kingdom registered participants for the event.  

A full recording of the event can be accessed here.

Opening Session

The event was opened by Undersecretary Hon. Manlio Di Stefano of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, who underlined that the webinar was a concrete follow-up to the IORA First (virtual) Core Group Meeting on Tourism, which took place on 31 August 2020.

Undersecretary Di Stefano noted that Italy has been the first country in which cruises restarted operating, adopting new rules and mechanisms, and that Italian key players in the cruise sector who have developed specific health and safety protocols with the support of national Authorities, were participating in the webinar to share experiences and specific programmes:

  • As part of concrete cooperation with IORA and its Member States in this sector, Italy plans to offer a training course for cruise terminal officers from IORA countries, in collaboration with the Civitavecchia Port Authority and its state-of-the-art cruise terminal. 
  • Italy considers this cooperation with IORA on Cruise tourism as ongoing, and to this end proposed to host a specific high-level meeting with IORA Member States on this issue in the Italian Pavilion during Expo Dubai, taking advantage of the event “Across the Waters: Moving Money, Good, and People over the Indian Ocean” which will take place during the 20-26 March 2022 “Water Week”.

The event was also addressed by the current Chair of IORA, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) by H.E. Mohammad Al Mheiri, Undersecretary – Minister Advisor for Tourism, Ministry of the Economy who noted the unprecedented effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly on cruise tourism. He stressed the need to strengthen health and safety protocols, and to improve confidence in restarting the cruise tourism industry in the region and beyond.

Dr Nomvuyo Nokwe, the IORA Secretary General, recognised Italy for its dynamic approach towards developing creative programmes and projects in support of IORA’s vision and goals.  There is an extremely dynamic partnership evolving between IORA and Italy, and the webinar serves as an exciting starting point to developing Italy-IORA cooperation in the field of Sustainable Cruise Tourism, particularly through capacity building and training programmes for IORA and its Member States.

The keynote address was delivered by the Deputy Minister of Tourism of Maldives, Dr Naushad Mohamed. The Deputy Minister stressed that global and cruise tourism has taken a heavy toll from the COVID-19, with the full economic impact of lock down on cruise tourism yet to be realized. IORA members have, however, a unique advantage in terms of geographic locations and rich cultural heritage that are often sought after by cruise travelers. “We need to study the rich cultural heritage and tourist experiences that member destinations have to offer for tourists” the Deputy Minister stated. To this end, the Maldives myriad tourism experiences were highlighted, including that the Maldives was the first sea-border country in South East Asia to open for international tourists, and is listed in the WTCC safe tourism list.  He further called upon member countries to establish both formal and informal networks to improve connectivity and unity to build tourism among IORA members with their unique cultural heritage and marine resources to outperform competing regional collaborations.

Substantive Sessions 

The webinar agenda included four substantive sessions comprising presentations by prominent Government officials, representatives from international and regional organisations, industry representatives, and academics on key issues affecting the global tourism and cruise industry. 

Session One – Impact of COVID-19 on the global cruise industry. Chaired by Mario Andrea Vattani, National IORA Focal point for Italy

  1. Roberto Alberti, Senior VP & Chief Strategy Officer, Costa Group 
  2. Silvia Bruzzi, Dept. of Economics, University of Genova 
  3. Ukko Metsola, Director General Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Europe
  4. John Portelli, General Manager, Roma Cruise Terminal srl

Session Two – How cruise lines and cruise ports are fighting back & Impacts on cruise jobs and recruitment (prevention & control, emergency mechanisms). Chaired by Luigi Giannini, President of the Italy-IORA Committee

  1. Francesco Maria Di Majo, President Port Authority Civitavecchia 
  2. Pascal Viroleau, Chief Executive Officer, Vanilla Islands Organisation
  3. Ratna Chadha, Co-founder and Chairperson, TIRUN Travel Marketing and India representative Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd 

Session Three – Restarting cruise market and regaining market confidence. Chaired by Laurence Martin, Secretary General of Federazione del Mare

  1. Rossella Carrara, VP External Relations & Sustainability, Costa Group 
  2. Amrita Craig, Marketer, Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority 
  3. Alessandra Priante, Director Regional Department for Europe at World Tourism Organization, UNWTO 

Session Four – Future development trend of cruise industry after the epidemic. Chaired by Vincenzo Petrone, President of Assonave

  1. Massimo Debenedetti, Corporate Vice President Research & Innovation, Fincantieri
  2. Kate O’Shaughnessy, Australian High Commissioner to Mauritius and Seychelles, and Ambassador to Comoros and Madagascar 
  3. Babak Bani-Jamali, Advisor, Ports and Maritime Organization, Iran 
  4. Francesco Beltrame, University of Genova, ENR-RINA

Sessions’ Key Takeaways

The webinar emphasised the tremendous potential for Cruise Tourism as a key driver for economic growth and development.The cruise industry was one of the fastest growing segments of tourism. This was evidenced by the fact that prior to the pandemic India decided to become a global hub for cruise tourism and government was working with stakeholders and consultants to realise this vision.  According to Cruise Lines International Association’s (CLIA) 2020 State of the Cruise Industry Outlook report, cruising sustained 1,177,000 jobs equalling $50.24 billion in wages and salaries and $150 billion total output worldwide in 2018. 32 million passengers were expected to set sail in 2020 and to meet ongoing demand, CLIA Cruise Lines were scheduled to debut 19 new ocean ships in the upcoming year, resulting in a total of 278 CLIA Cruise Line ocean ships projected to be in operation by the end of 2020. 

However, the worldwide outbreak of COVID-19 has brought the world to a standstill, and of all major economic sectors, tourism has been the worst affected by the pandemic. According to the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a 22% fall in international tourist arrivals during the first quarter of 2020 and the crisis could lead to an annual decline of between 60% and 80% when compared with 2019 figures. While many economic sectors are expected to recover once restrictive measures are lifted, the pandemic will probably have a longer lasting effect on international tourism. This is largely due to reduced consumer confidence and the likelihood of longer restrictions on the international movement of people. Without strong support, the sudden and unexpected fall in tourism could devastate the economies of Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Since tourism is a strong socio-economic pillar of many SIDS, the impact that COVID-19 is having on the sector places millions of jobs and businesses at risk, with women and informal workers the most vulnerable.

However, international tourism and cruise tourism is slowly restarting, as travel restrictions across the world in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are gradually eased. Italy has been the first country in which Cruises restarted operating with new rules and mechanisms. Italy believes that this is an important step to start regaining market confidence in a sector that – in Italy alone – covers 3% of the national GDP, employs over 120, 000 workers and has a turnover of around 45 billion euro. Nevertheless, cruise tourism is expected to witness a radical shift with a new wave of “slow” and “smart” tourism taking centerstage and an increased momentum for health and wellness.

Member States and Italian stakeholders discussed the implementation of health and safety protocols. The Costa Safety Protocol, developed by the company together with scientific experts, includes new operational measures that address the COVID-19 situation, fully compliant with the provisions defined by the Italian and European authorities. Key measures include antigen swab tests for all guests and crew before embarkation, temperature checks while disembarking and returning to the ship, visits to destinations only with protected excursions and physical distancing onboard and at the terminals. In addition, with a reduction in the number of passengers, the enhanced protocols include new ways of using onboard services, improved sanitization and medical services, and the use of protective face masks when necessary. Pascal Viroleau, Chief Executive Officer, Vanilla Islands Organisation and Amrita Craig, Marketer, Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority also discussed the different health and safety measures being implemented. It was proposed that the Government of Italy could share their health and safety protocols with IORA Member States, while Vincenzo Petrone, President of Assonave proposed that a global protocol be developed for adoiption by all countries.  

Discussions also stressed the need for the implementation of a people centred approach to restarting tourism. The total number of people employed by the cruise industry surpassed 1 million. This places millions of livelihoods at risk and threatens to roll back progress made to decrease poverty and inequality which therefore makes sustaining the livelihoods a priority. For women, rural communities, indigenous peoples and many other historically marginalized populations, tourism has been a vehicle for integration, empowerment and generating income. Australia highlighted the importance of empowering women noting that the majority of people employed in tourism, both in formal and informal jobs, worldwide are women. The Australian Yumi Project was showcased as an example of opportunities to drive local business, jobs and economic growth in Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea through a shared value approach with the private sector. She further announced that UN women would be hosting a “Women in Cruise Tourism” webinar for IORA Member States

Key outcomes & way forward

  1. The Government of Italy plans to offer a training course for cruise terminal officers from IORA countries, in collaboration with the Civitavecchia Port Authority and its state-of-the-art cruise terminal. 
  2. The Government of Italy proposed to host a specific high-level meeting with IORA Member States on cruise tourism in the Italian Pavilion during Expo Dubai, taking advantage of the event “Across the Waters: Moving Money, Good, and People over the Indian Ocean” which will take place during the 20-26 March 2022 “Water Week”.
  3. Vincenzo Petrone, President of Assonave proposed to share health and safety protocols with IORA Member States for their consideration.
  4. Australia announced that UN women would be hosting a “Women in Cruise Tourism” webinar for IORA Member States.
  5. A possible collaboration between the Indian Ocean Rim Academic Group and the University of Genova to conduct more in-depth research on cruise tourism.

Closing Session

Luca Sabbatucci, Director General for Global Issues, Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation gave a brief summary of the meeting and thanked delegates for their participation.