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Sète: cruise stopovers have started again

63 are on the program this year, compared to 19 last year. The tenth is expected this Friday.

Here we go again. After a white and dry season in 2020, a consequence of the pandemic, then only 19 stopovers last year with 5,500 passengers, the port of Sète must welcome, by the end of the year, 63 cruise ships.

This Wednesday, for the ninth stopover since the beginning of the year (the first having taken place on January 3), a very beautiful 135 m sailing unit, the Sea Cloud Spirit, was moored at the quay of Algiers this morning of May 4 under a radiant sun. Proudly exhibiting its three-masters to the great satisfaction of the many visitors who came to photograph or film it. So much so that there was almost an air of Stopover in Sète. Another ship from the Seacloud shipowner is due to return this Friday the 6th.

Seduction in Miami

The consequences of the pandemic have clearly caused a backlash in this major activity for the port of Sète and for the city. This year we are back to the levels of number of pre-Covid 19 stopovers of 2018 (72 stopovers) and 2019 (66) but with fewer passengers because the trend is for smaller units, which always remain limited (gauge requires) with very well-defined health protocols. “It has resumed gradually, but clearly, rejoices Arnaud Rieutort, commercial director of Port Sud-de-France, who is returning from Miami, where the Sea Trade, the largest cruise show in the world:

“An event eagerly awaited by professionals in the sector, knowing that the main players, after two years of abstinence or almost, were there. There is strong global demand because people have a strong desire to travel again, which translates into a large number of reservations. The Sea Trade brought together most of the destinations of the whole world as well as the main shipowners. We were present on behalf of the Sète Cruise Club which we run with the CCI of Sète and the OT, within the France Pavilion, in partnership with the Port-Vendres-Collioure cruise club to promote the Occitanie destination, with the support of the Regional Tourism Committee”. The important thing, “in such a competitive universe, is to have good visibility and readability, with both an attractive and differentiating tourist offer and port facilities adapted to the needs of companies”.

In this respect, this show was “a success due to the number of concrete and interested meetings. There is a real dynamic and a real attraction for the destination Sète and the Occitan territory with its many UNESCO sites nearby. We can to affirm that, Sète is in the sonars of companies looking for the authentic, the singular. The 2023 and 2024 seasons are starting to fill up, hence the importance of being present at this kind of event”. That of 2022, which therefore started early, is off to a good start.

“Reasonable and reasoned” approach

But the orientation has changed a bit. “The Sète Cruise Club is now committed to a reasonable and reasoned development of cruising, continues Arnaud Rieutort, with units up to 250 m, which is more in line with our reception capacities”. Of all the 63 stopovers in 2022, it is the Viking company which provides the largest contingent (19 in all). “Companies are increasingly concerned about their acceptability in ports with the emphasis on respect for the environment and local communities, with an increased number of ships running on LNG, a boom in the circular economy at board, as well as the search for green, exclusive excursions.We ourselves, at the port with the support of the Region, are going to invest in the electrification of the quays by 2023. The port of Sète is ahead of this subject compared to many other port places”.

Passengers docking this year are mostly Americans. “They particularly appreciate the appearance of the city, its gastronomy, its traditions, in particular the games, underlines Arnaud Rieutort. Sète is a beautiful stage well positioned on routes between the Côte d’Azur, Spain and Italy” . While some cruise passengers can take advantage of their stopover to go on an excursion (towards the city of Carcassonne, Montpellier or the Pont du Gard, in particular), many are quite content with a walk in town, led by a guide, with stops at Les Halles and in shops, some of which carry the Cruise Friendly label.

One thing is certain: “reception in ports remains essential for cruise companies to return”. And on this level, with the help of experience, the one that Sète reserves for “its” cruise passengers has become one of its main assets.

A popular stopover for Americans

NAHMENS American tourists like to stop off on the quai Samary: the facade of the Nahmens house, at no. 7, is decorated with a sculpted eagle, symbol of a story close to their hearts. This is where the North American consulate was located. Originally from Denmark, Simon Nahmens had been vice-consul of the United States. He was one of the key personalities of the city in the 19th century, through two activities: the wine trade and the salt trade. He was also one of the local founders of the central society for the rescue of shipwrecked people, ancestor of the national sea rescue station of Sète.

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