Playa Blanca’s new harbour is highly likely to receive its first cruisers in the 2024/25 winter season, as authorities work to prepare the resort as Lanzarote’s second cruise destination. But is the southern resort prepared?
The election of Cabildo President Oswaldo Betancort in May is a key factor in the arrival of cruisers in Playa Blanca. Betancort has been an advocate of Playa Blanca as a cruise stop for several years, and the change in the Canarian Government ensures a more favourable reception for the idea.
Betancort has already confirmed that Lanzarote will be present at various important trade fairs for the cruise sector, with a view to receiving the first small and medium-sized cruisers in the 2024/25 winter season.
Yaiza Mayor Óscar Noda has also supported the arrival of cruisers and has requested meetings with security forces and other organizations with a view to preparing the port for the legally required police and security presence and the necessary infrastructure.
It won’t be the first-time cruise passengers have arrived in Playa Blanca. Several years ago, cruisers would anchor off the coast of the resort and passengers would be tendered in smaller boats. However, this has not happened for several years, and the docking facilities at the new port will make matters easier, and more lucrative for local authorities.
Nevertheless, the arrival of cruisers provokes mixed reactions from locals and residents. Business owners are often enthusiastic about the prospect, but crowded footpaths and streets can also cause discontent among locals, as well as conventional tourists. Many suspect that cruise tourists spend too little on land, as they have everything they require back on board.
Then there is the environmental factor to consider. Cities such as Barcelona and Venice have seen backlashes against the arrival of cruise ships, which not only dominate skylines and fill the streets with day-trippers but are also one of the least environmentally friendly means of transport.
In the port of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, for example, it is estimated that cruisers produce more sulphur dioxide than all the land-based vehicles in the city. Cruisers also produce high amounts of methane and other contaminants and produce up to 95 m3 of waste from toilets and 541 m3 of waste from sinks, kitchens and showers every day. Much of this is jettisoned at sea due to lax legislation.
IS PLAYA BLANCA READY?
Playa Blanca will have a number of advantages and disadvantages when compared to Arrecife as a cruise destination.
The main difference is geographical. The Strait of Bocaina is simply not deep enough for the immense cruisers that are often seen moored at Puerto de los Mármoles in Arrecife. This means that smaller cruisers will arrive, which are less likely to loom over the seascape, but will also bring fewer visitors.
Many local businesses will welcome the increased footfall, and as a resort town, Playa Blanca is probably better suited to receiving visitors than Arrecife, where most shops usually close in the afternoon and on Sundays. Arrecife’s Mayor Yonathan de León recently urged local businesses to consider opening for longer hours in order to offer more possibilities for cruise tourists, but after several years, change has been slow.
Playa Blanca is a relatively short distance from Lanzarote’s most popular tourist attraction, the Fire Mountains of Timanfaya, but many of the island’s other attractions are at the other end of the island. Taxis and coaches regularly await cruisers in Arrecife to take visitors on tours and excursions, and this is likely to extend to Playa Blanca.
This, however, is likely to place pressure on the resort’s infrastructure. The new harbour extension was never intended for cruisers, and if coach tours and excursions increase there will be greater traffic on the main road in and out of Yaiza. Yaiza Ayuntamiento has been calling for the LZ-2 to be widened to a dual-carriageway for some time, but no plans are currently in place for this.
DOES CRUISE TOURISM BRING MONEY?
According to official statistics, 457,000 cruise tourists arrived at Arrecife over the last year, most during the peak cruise season between October and April.
Of course, not all of those tourists disembarked. There is no way of knowing how many of them did step ashore, what they did on Lanzarote and how much money they may have spent on the island.
Nevertheless, Arrecife city centre is often filled with cruise tourists on the days when the big ships dock at Puerto de los Mármoles or the Lanzarote Marina. Others take taxis or pre-booked excursions, and it’s not uncommon to see groups of cyclists from cruise ships, either.
Nevertheless, the benefits they bring are difficult to estimate. A study in Bergen, Norway has revealed that up to 40% of passengers stay on the boat at that destination, and those that went on shore spent an average of €23 each. If we applied these figures to Lanzarote, it would indicate that well over five million Euros goes to local businesses.
But the tourists are not the only source of income. Figures from the Canarias7 newspaper suggest that each cruiser that docks in a port in Las Palmas province pays between €12,000 to €15,000 to do so. With 244 stops scheduled for this season, this will also raise between 2.5 to 3 million euros.
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