Sea Facade, St. Petersburg Cruise Port, is going to implement a new disembarkation scheme from 2018 navigation onward, which can described as «ship-sponsored shore tours passengers come first». On August 15 this year, the scheme, which is said to be used only on highly busy days, will be tested within a one-day experiment.
Like in most cruise ports across the world, in St. Petersburg cruise visitors can book shore excursions with:
— their cruise line which hires a local partner and provides the so-called «ship-sponsored tours»;
— local travel agencies (so called «independent operators») directly.
The second option is in high demand as it’s cheaper and provides more flexibility because independent companies usually operate with small groups and serve them with minivans. They are smart and quick instead of big accredited operators who love working with big groups which they transport by big buses.
One more detail that’s specific for St. Petersburg is that if you arrive within a 72-hour visa free format then you need a booked excursion, no matter which option you choose to book it. Papers for confirmation the booking of the excursion, including a plan and timing of your trip around the city, are required to pass through immigration control and get ashore. Some tourists even hire a private guide only to be able to get into the city and walk here on their own with the guide just accompanying them and sipping drinks while the visitors are hanging around.
St. Petersburg passenger port now has contracts with 120 local travel agencies, and only five of them are partners of cruise companies. These five serve about 80% cruise passengers buying shore tours. Here is a list of them:
Arctur Travel http://www.arctur.spb.ru/content.html
Baltic Travel Company http://www.baltictravel.com/page/3
Mir http://mirtc.ru/ (only in Russian)
European Cruise Service Russia http://www.europeancruise.no/contact.html
Until now, the port has been treating all the companies — both accredited by cruise lines and the independent ones — equally in terms of granting access to the port’s territory and its facilities and the possibility to meet passengers and take them to the city. But this year’s surge in tourist numbers made things some complicated and nervous. Despite a good infrastructure of the port and sufficient amount of immigration control desks, it often happens that passengers are forced to stay in long queues to come out of the terminal. Vehicles of tour operators cause traffic jams in front of the terminal. All this has resulted in delays of shore excursions and complaints by travel agencies, cruise lines and tourists.
Some figures speak for themselves. On June 7, the port served seven ships with 17911 passengers disembarking what was near the level of 100% load. The problem is getting worse as ships are getting bigger and St. Petersburg is getting more popular. This year will see a 17 percent increase in passengers’ numbers in comparison to 2016, while 2018 is going to add its 10 percent to the result of 2017 (the forecast is based on existing and confirmed plans of cruise companies).
So, the port needs to get things organized somehow, or, to be more accurate, reorganized to run them smoothly. That’s what we will see on August 15 and what will be used with some corrections in 2018 on peak days (when five to seven ships are at piers):
— vehicles of the five accredited companies have a priority to be first to enter the port’s area to take out their clients who are disembarking a ship;
— only after 1.5 hour after the start of the disembarkation procedure (when the accredited tourists have been out), vehicles of independent travel agencies get a right to enter the port.
As a result of this approach, clients of independent shore excursions providers may have to wait 1.5 hour to disembark on their first day in St. Petersburg. This will hardly affect their visit as cruise ships normally spend two-three days here, and on second and third days the new policy is not implemented, you can get off a ship at any time you want.
What’s also important for passengers are new rules for taxis established by the port with immediate effect.
The test undertaken on August 15 proved to be successful, St. Petersburg tourism committee’s chairman Andrey Mushkarev said. It means the new system will be in place next season, though with some amendments.