Southampton, the busiest cruise port in the United Kingdom, has returned to pre-pandemic visit levels with growth that shows no signs of slowing.
The good news comes from the latest Hampshire County Council report on local economic strengths, and while there are local and regional economic challenges, the cruise sector was highlighted as a strength with significant economic contributions.
Southampton Returns to Pre-Pandemic Cruise Levels
The South England cruise port of Southampton has welcomed seven ships for inaugural calls in 2023, including Silversea Cruises’ new Silver Nova and the brand new MSC Explora from MSC Cruises’ new luxury division. In total, nearly 500 ship visits will bring an estimated 2 million passengers through the port this year.
These amazing numbers represent a phenomenal recovery milestone for the cruise port, as Southampton has not seen 2 million cruise guests since 2017. This strong return is a great turnaround from several years of more tentative travel in a down economy and reflect the return to cruising from the industry-wide pandemic shutdown.
In 2022, Southampton saw 489 ship visits and roughly 1.9 million passengers serviced. While the year-over-year growth for 2023 may not seem individually significant, it does show the strength of the cruise sector even in a weakening economy.
Nearby Portsmouth – just 22 miles (35 kilometers) east of Southampton, is likewise seeing great cruise traffic this year. The number of cruise passengers through Portsmouth in 2022 was just 35,000, but the port expects to nearly triple that figure to 97,000 in 2023. In total, 83 ships are planned to visit Portsmouth.
Strong Economic Contributions
Each cruise ship visit to the Port of Southampton is estimated to bring in an estimated £2.7 million ($3.3 USD) to the local economy. This figure represents the combined impact of local jobs and wages, taxes and fees paid by the cruise line, and monies spent by cruise guests for retail, restaurants, hotels, transportation, and more.
Only about half that economic influence remains in the region, and local officials are exploring ways to keep more of the economic benefit in the area. This could come about by more tour offerings, local tourist hotspot promotion, port redevelopment, and other projects.
“Making Hampshire itself an important destination, which is attractive in terms of using Southampton as a stopping point because people come to the UK to visit our area,” said Gary Westbrook, Director of Hampshire 2050 and Assistant Chief Executive of the Hampshire County Council.
“To make sure tourists spend money in our area, we are working very closely with the range of our tourist attractions and local tourist spots to really promote what those are.”
Westbrook noted the local wine industry as a prime example that could be better promoted as a tourist attraction. Vineyard tours, wine-making demonstrations, wine tastings, and local wine retail could all be part of that promotion to keep the economic benefit of cruise visits in the region.
Approximately 14,000 Hampshire jobs are supported by the cruise industry annually, from direct port personnel to expanded retail, transportation, and tour operations to welcome visitors.
Cruising to Southampton and Portsmouth
A variety of cruise lines, from large mainstream lines to smaller, more exclusive luxury lines all visit Southampton. Guests interested in visiting the iconic UK port should consider Cunard Line, P&O Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Princess Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, MSC Cruises, AIDA Cruises, and Fred Olsen Cruise Lines for amazing opportunities.
Southampton serves as the top UK cruise homeport, as well as a port of call. Typical itineraries include British Isles sailings as well as cruises throughout northern Europe, south to the Canary Islands, visits to Iceland, Norwegian Fjord sailings, and transatlantic crossings.
Nearby Portsmouth regularly welcomes ships from Viking Cruises, Virgin Voyages, AIDA Cruises, Saga Cruises, TUI Cruises, Silversea Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Ambassador Cruise Line, among others.