Cruise Industry

How will ‘hard Brexit’ impact the UK cruise industry?

How Brexit (the UK leaving the EU) affects the British cruise tourism sector will depend entirely on the nature of the deal, or lack thereof, negotiated with the European Commission.

During a tumultuous week in British politics, during which Prime Minister Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement vote was deferred in the face of unprecedented resistance from parliament, triggering a vote of no confidence in her leadership, the prospect of a hard Brexit became more likely.

EU-flagged cruise ships will still be able to visit UK ports and vice-versa due to bilateral maritime agreements already in place.

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A hard Brexit on March 29th, 2019, would entail the UK leaving the EU without a deal, leaving a plethora of legislative issues up in the air, one of which will be passport control and customs.

How will Brexit affect passengers?

The UK’s laws are entwined with those of the other 27 EU member states. Neither side has announced what will happen on the date of departure, largely because no one knows yet.

If there is no deal, economic and political chaos is a real possibility, including travel difficulties for British tourists going on cruises to European ports, which could force some to cancel cruise plans.

“I think the simple answer to this is we obviously need more clarity to really precisely say how we’ll respond to it but an organization as big as TUI has obviously got a lot of plans and preparations to…cater for whatever scenario comes at us with Brexit,” David Burling, TUI’s CEO for markets and airlines, told Skift at World Travel Market London earlier in 2018.

Simon Calder, an English travel writer and broadcaster, currently senior travel editor for The Independent, says the impact for British tourists will depend on the nature of the exit agreement.

“Clearly the crucial thing is what sort of political settlement do we get? But on the ground, things will continue to be run by good, professional men and women doing what they’re supposed to,” he told The Express.

“There might be some initial things that need to be ironed out, but generally it’s not in their interests to stop us travelling,” agreed Edmund King, President of the AA.

Some cruise lines may drop UK ports of call if there are long waits due to new immigration policies and procedures.

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The up-in-the-air nature of the potential impact of Brexit on the British cruise market was highlighted by David Dingle, Carnival UK chairman, during a business event for Cruise Britain. In response to a question in Brexit, he posited his own.

“Can the agreed deal be sold to Parliament? Will there be no confidence in the Government, leading to an election, and even if there was one, would it make any difference? Is Parliament any more likely to agree to a second referendum than to the deal currently on offer? Could Article 50 be delayed?” he said, according to Seatrade Cruise.

“And most importantly for us, does all this make much difference for the cruise industry?” he added.

How will the industry itself be affected?

According to Dingle, a negotiated Brexit is obviously the best outcome for the cruise industry, ensuring that business continues largely as it does now. “There may be some bother around seafarer certificate equivalency and the conditions for bringing new EU nationals into the UK to work after Brexit,” he said.

“Travel insurance could become more expensive as EHIC cards become invalid, and it would be a nuisance if the UK was included in the European visa waiver scheme,” he added. “[But] a no-deal Brexit may well be a whole lot scarier, particularly in the early days if negotiations which go to the wire fail and there are no temporary measures in place.”

P&O and other British cruise lines that operate fly-cruises to non-EU destinations and use the British Pound as the on-board currency stand to benefit.

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In this scenario, the hundreds of cruise ships calling at EU ports on March 30th, 2019, may not be able to disembark their British passengers, and similarly, cruise ships calling at British ports would not be able to let EU nationals go ashore.

Even without any trade agreement between the EU and the UK, cruise ships would still be able to avail local services, such as refuelling, chandlery and so on.

“The industry enjoys global frameworks which mitigate any risk to ongoing marine operations,” said Stuart Leven, Managing Director, Royal Caribbean Cruises, during Seatrade Europe. “However, the freedom of movement of our guests and the customs union are two areas which will be determined during the Brexit negotiations.”

Travel companies and those destinations that rely on UK tourists may want as little as possible to change, the decision, however is out of their hands, as any agreement, temporary or otherwise, will need to be agreed by all 27 EU member states.

How will the local UK cruise market be affected?

When the United Kingdom leaves the EU it will become one country neighbouring a union made up of dozens, and may find itself dropped from the itineraries of many European cruise lines if immigration policies cause delays.

AIDA Cruises, for example, calls in Southampton every Monday on roundtrip Hamburg cruises operated by AIDAmar. With just one day in port, and shore excursions all the way up to London, David Dingle, Carnival UK chairman, says it’s essential that passengers are disembarked quickly.

“They rely on getting the ship cleared and the passengers cleared to come into the UK really, really fast because they’re only in for one day and they’re operating tours to London and back,” he said.

“That’s 3,000 people you’ve got clear off that ship and back on again,” he added. “If you had to have a really elongated and laboured passport check of those people, frankly my German brand would not bother to call in a UK port. That means loss of money to the UK.”

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