Haven Gateway: David Ralph reflects on the Cruise Gateway conference

THE Mayor of Colchester, Christopher Arnold, let us into a secret last week – he doesn’t like cruises. You might wonder how that message went down, as he gave the welcoming address at the start of the Cruise Gateway North Sea Region mid-term conference, but stay with me, because his message was important.

Mr Arnold has actually been on three cruises and did admit he quite enjoyed playing table tennis on an empty deck at one o’clock in the morning, and teaching his daughter to play chess with a giant chess set on deck.

But what he enjoyed most was getting off the ship and finding out what the surrounding areas had to offer – and that’s where the Cruise Gateway project really comes in.

We are working with partners from across Europe to find ways of promoting the North Sea Region for cruises, particularly because of the attractions on offer when the passengers step ashore.

Think of the variety of landscapes, the food and drink, the history and culture, the magnificent cities – and then factor in the remarkably short distances between many of the North Sea destinations, and perhaps you can see the argument.

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The shorter cruising distances give more time in port, often in places where you can disembark and walk straight into the city centre. In some cases that might enable the ship to stay in port well into the evening, too.

The reduced distances also offer fuel savings, another vitally important topic these days.

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Hosting the conference, with the support of Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, Harwich International Port and Readers Offers Ltd, gave us the opportunity to show off what Harwich and the surrounding area has to offer.

The main conference, which was held at Firstsite in Colchester, was followed by a trip to Harwich International Port, where our Cruise Gateway partners, who had travelled from Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Scotland and Norway, were able to tour the port and enjoy lunch on board the cruise ship Thomson Spirit.

However, a key message was that the North Sea Region as a whole still lacks a clear identity and image, something we continue to work on through the project’s marketing and branding work.

: : David Ralph is chief executive of the Haven Gateway Partnership.

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