• Newsletter
  • Write a Review
  • Boards
  • Deals
  • Find a Cruise
  • Reviews
  • News
  • Cruise Tips
You may also like

What is the Economic Impact of the Pause in Cruise Operations to the UK?

U.K. Executive Editor
Adam Coulter

Oct 1, 2020

Read time
8 min read

It's been just over six months since the pandemic forced the global cruise industry to cease operations.

And although a few lines have restarted cruising in Europe, here in the UK you'll find just two -- The Majestic Line and English Holiday Cruises. The former operates former fishing boats, which carry 10 people, the latter one small ship carrying 22 passengers.

It's certainly a far cry from what was meant to be the biggest year for cruising in the UK, with seven launches of major ships due to take place and passengers numbers to finally top that two million mark.

So what has been the economic impact to the UK's ports as a result of this pause?

We first took a look at what cruising contributes to the UK economy at the start of the suspension of cruising.

According to 2019 figures from Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the industry's trade association, cruising contributes £10 billion to the UK economy every year.

The value of cruise was established in 2011 from an independent study by Atkins that advised that a home call (embarkation and disembarkation) generated an average £2.5 million, which equates to £2.95 million today.

Assuming business interruption for a minimum of six months (including peak period), for Southampton this could result in a loss of 400 calls, which equates to £1.2 billion -- a staggering figure, which is for just one port, albeit the UK's busiest.

A Bleak Winter Ahead

Cruise has been a runaway success story in the UK, with call figures more than doubling over the decade to 2019, with a four-fold growth in day-call passengers and embarkation numbers rising by 50 per cent over the same period.

A total of 74 UK ports received a cruise ship in 2019. The 2,466 calls to UK ports equated to 142 individual cruise ships from 62 cruise lines.

Call rates ranged from single figures for smaller ports such as Cowes or Troon, to hundreds for Southampton and Orkney.

Research by IRN on behalf of Cruise Britain came up with the following figures for average passenger spend of £160 per embarkation and £70 per day call:

Day calls: 1.740 million (+5.9 per cent year-on-year) passengers. (This is counted as every time a passenger steps ashore in a UK port and is calculated on economic value to each port for each visit.) Total passenger spend value to port regions = £122 million Passenger transit numbers have risen by 1.29 million over last 10 years and were predicted to rise further in 2020.

Embarkations: 1.1 million passengers Spend value to port region = £176 million (This excludes cruise line spend and crew spend.)

"Cruise calls bring vital economic benefit that supports and builds a robust local economy. Orkney alone is facing a shortfall of £12 million based on 2019 figures," Director of Cruise Britain  Kay Greenway said.

"The hidden figure is the impact on the supply chain such as the stevedoring services, car parking, port agents, coach companies etc. Many of them have a decimated business model and are facing a bleak third winter.

Solent Stevedores relased the following statement: "The loss of cruise in 2020 has been a huge challenge resulting in the devastating loss of 400 jobs and 20 percent of our business. We are currently assessing how best we can serve the industry when it returns."


Meanwhile in Dover, which was set to have a bumper year for cruise ships, kicked off by the most exciting launch of a line for many years -- Virgin Voyages -- the story is much the same, though Dover declined to put an actual figure on the losses.

"The expectation would be bleak, having lost all booked cruise calls for the last 6 months," Head of Cruise Sonia Limbrick said.

"However, as Dover has a reputation within the industry for being innovative and supportive of cruise lines, we have been well placed to assist Carnival, P&O, RCCL and Disney with lay-by berthing, crew repatriation, maintenance and stores provision.

"This helped to offset some of those cancellations, while enhancing our position as a port that can deliver to customer needs."

The 2020 season is over before it even began, but 2021 is looking promising, with 131 port calls scheduled as well as Hurtigruten, Disney and Saga homeporting ships.

"We also fully appreciate the value cruising has, not only on the economy within Dover, but also further afield with the region," Limbrick said. "This is why we have a cruise partnership with Visit Kent and other regional high-profile attractions to provide an exciting range of excursion options for lines and passengers, while facilitating revenues for the local economy."


Multiple Editors' Picks Awards winner for Best Port, Guernsey has had a bumper few years for cruising, but like Dover, its 2020 season never even started.

Based on the projected numbers this year, the island has missed out on a potential 176,000 shore visits.

Last year the cruise spend represented £3.9 million. Because no cruises visited Guernsey, though an increase year-on-year was planned, this is a conservative estimate on what has been lost, Marketing Manager of VisitGuernsey Wendy Pedder said.

"Over recent years, the development of Guernsey's cruise programme has brought a significant increase in cruise visits, passenger disembarkation and the on-island cruise infrastructure.

"The cruise market is now a critical and growing part of our tourism offering. It is therefore very disappointing that this year we have not been able to welcome our scheduled cruise liners and passengers and to capitalise on the growth that 2020 should have brought. We very much look forward to resuming our cruise calls in 2021."


Like Dover, Liverpool was all set for a bumper year, kicked off with a call from Virgin Voyages' Scarlet Lady in February. Sadly, there were just two other calls in 2020 before the season stopped, costing the city £14 million in lost revenue.

"Virgin's call from Scarlet Lady in February was a fantastic start to the 2020 season. 2020 was set to be our biggest year yet with 100-plus ships, 200,000 passengers and crew," Passenger Operations Manager Kate Green said.

The opening of the new cruise ship terminal in 2007 saw a corresponding rise in port calls and a renewed interest in the city that was once the gateway to the New World.

"Cruise ships once again were at the heart of our city -- quite literally," Green said. "The Cruise Liner Terminal is a major attractor for investment and visitors into the city, and contributes to a number of city aims and priorities.

"Aside from generating significant economic impact and contributing to employment across the tourism and hospitality sector, the growth of cruise has created an identifiable sense of place and acted as a gateway to the city, as it once did in 20th century when passenger shipping was at its highest."

As for next year, Liverpool is hoping for 101 port calls starting in March, Green said.


Although not as significant a cruise port as neighbour Southampton, Portsmouth was on track for an impressive year for a port that primarily takes small to mid-sized ships such as Saga and Fred. Olsen.

"Our year started with the announcement we would host our first ship naming, Saga's Spirit of Adventure in the summer," Andrew Williamson, passenger operations manager at Portsmouth International Port, said.

"This news was followed by an impressive showcase visit from Hurtigruten's Fridtjof Nansen, and we were on track for 47 calls.

"While we all know what happened next there have still been remarkable events at the port."

Williamson is referring to crew repatriation, which Portsmouth played a major part in for Viking, Royal Caribbean and Marella.

Like other ports, the impact on the city has been tough, with attractions bearing the brunt of revenue loss.

Williamson is unable to put an exact figure in terms of lost revenues, but with 12,500 passengers last year each spending 80 euros while in port and 15,000 spending 180 euros at their ports of embarkation, a conservative estimate would be £3.7 million -- on lost spending alone (and that does not include crew).

He is bullish about the future, however, predicting a rise in round-UK cruising (which Cunard has already announced); and the completion of the port's cruise berth extension which he estimates could lead to 150,000 passenger arrivals per year by 2023.

Portsmouth's provisional schedule for 2021 is 57 port calls.

"We are in discussions with a number of operators, and now that we can demonstrate we can handle ships up to 270 metres this certainly helps to demonstrate our growing capabilities," he adds.

"With the news that Fred. Olsen is coming to Portsmouth for turnarounds, we're working with other cruise line partners on exciting plans for 2021, our ambitions remain unchanged."

Updated October 01, 2020
How was this article?
About UsCruise DestinationsFirst Time CruisersFind A Cruise

International Sites

© 1995—2023, The Independent Traveler, Inc.

  • Privacy and Cookies Statement

  • Terms of Use

  • Site Map