Alan Lam reporting from Hamburg
On the second day of Seatrade Cruise and River Cruise Convention - currently underway in Hamburg, Germany - the topic of Brexit came under scrutiny.
The general consensus among the industry leaders is one of “business as usual”. None of the cruise lines has reported any negative impact on customer confidence and booking behaviour changes on account of the impending Brexit. The UK cruise business is still booming.
Although the biggest threat to the industry is one of uncertainty, “Fourteen months into the process we still don’t know anything about Brexit,” said Tim Reardon, Policy Director – Taxation, Ferry and Cruise, UK Chamber of Shipping. But all the indications suggest Brexit makes no difference to cruise business.”
Others in the industry share this view. “The business is buoyant,” said Stuart Leven, Vice President, EMEA and Managing Director, RCL Cruises Ltd. “We have not seen any indication at all of the negative impact on customer confidence. Customers are resilient. I think one area of concern is the short-term currency fluctuation. The buoyancy remains as we go through the process. We are now selling cruises for after the three-year moratorium period of Brexit. There is no indication of slowing down.”
Leven also pointed out possible benefits of Brexit for the UK cruise business. “We always see the pitfalls,” he said, “but there could be benefits from Brexit. We just need to keep our focus as we go through the process,” he went on. “We are not making any itinerary changes because of Brexit.”
Looking at the broader picture there appears to be no changes based on Brexit. However, examining Brexit in detail, there are many questions need to be answered, especially those concerning free movement of passengers and labour. “I don’t think anybody will go mad and start to raise barriers,” said Thanos Pallis, Secretary General, MedCruise. “There might be some adjustments relating to customs control and duty-free sales, for example, but no major worries concerning the arrival of British passengers in short to medium term. In the longer term, everything will settle down in time once we have a clearer picture.”
The question of proposed visa requirement for UK citizens travelling to other EU countries was raised perfunctorily and dismissively. But it does not seem to have deterred either the cruise industry or its customers. If anything, the post-Brexit investment in the UK is intensifying. “We have shipping clients who are investing heavily in the UK and growing even though there is a looming Brexit,” said Javed Ali, Legal Consultant, Hill Dickinson. “We have clients from Italy who are relocating 400 staff to the UK.”
Neither the UK government nor EU has said anything to the cruise industry about Brexit. So uncertainty and currency fluctuation it brings are the only threats perceived by the industry for the moment. On the whole it is business as usual as far as Brexit is concern.