Vladimir Putin’s Sudeten-esque power play in the Ukraine is potentially redolent with big implications for the 2014 cruise season. With the region slowly but steadily growing in popularity over the last few years, more and more lines were committing themselves to two, three and sometimes more departures in and around the region.
Most lines will now be hedging their options, or trying to read the situation as it unfolds; a stance about as practical as trying to stuff a cloud in a suitcase. And, while summer temperatures in that region can, indeed, be hot, I suspect the unwelcome heat of the moment will dampen the enthusiasm of many potential visitors over the next few months.
In the upper echelon, both Crystal and Azamara have plans to cruise the Black Sea. When it comes to adventure cruises, Voyages To Antiquity had a couple of round trip cruise tours scheduled for the Aegean Odyssey. But it is the main stream lines, such as Costa and MSC, that stand to be hardest hit by the current situation.
It may well be too early to state definitively yet just what the end result of Putin’s hard ball game will be; the principal Black Sea ports of Odessa, Sevastopol and Yalta have always been popular draws. So, too, is Sochi, a city that would have been a landmark port for many after the recent winter Olympics.
Of course, Russian itineraries might already have been impacted to some extent by a gay backlash and boycott, the obvious consequence of Putin’s shocking acts of regressive demonisation, and the potential consequences of that alone could be significant. But as Russia keeps its foot firmly on it’s neighbours’ wind pipe, the residual, simmering world wide anxiety of the moment could well spread like a forest fire.
And it is not just the Black Sea that could take a hit. Summer time cruises in the Baltic are hugely popular, with a large number of ships- from the standard to the ultra luxury- offering cruises that have overnight stays in Saint Petersburg as their main attractions. Some ships make a normal daytime visit, but by far the great majority stay from anything between one and three nights.
If things were to spiral further downward, and cruise lines start to boycott Russia’s star attraction, that would be hugely disappointing for many passengers. Admittedly, it would also put one hell of a dint in Russia’s local tourist economy. Not to mention triggering a sudden rush to find alternative ports, each for the most part woefully ill equipped to cope with the sudden potential tidal wave of cruise refugees.
Of course, all of this could be snuffed out as quickly and easily as a candle. Cold blooded, callous and calculating as he undoubtedly is, Vladimir Putin is not stupid. Money still talks louder than any of the sycophants whispering in his ear.
But it would be a very blase cruise line indeed that did not keep an ear to the ground, and a raft of options at least ready for launch. These are, indeed, scary times.
As always, stay tuned.