The growing Port of Aberdeen, on Scotland’s remote northeast coast, is attracting cruise ships in record numbers. Expecting to set new cruise records in 2024, the port also predicts a steady rise in ship arrivals during the next few years, as more and larger vessels call at its new South Harbour facility.
Aberdeen Predicts 100 Ship Calls Within Three Years
Scotland’s Port of Aberdeen, located at the mouth of the River Dee with easy access to the North Sea, is on track to welcome 50 cruise ships and roughly 34,000 cruise passengers in 2024. The numbers represent a whopping 130% increase in ship arrivals compared to 2022, when 21 ships called, and nearly 20% over 2023, when a record-breaking 43 ships visited.
Port officials looked farther ahead in a report issued on February 2, 2024, and predicted that more than 100 cruise ships will call at Aberdeen by 2027. If the numbers pan out, it means a financial windfall for the region, since each port call represents £134 ($170) in local spending per cruise guest. That translates into £4.5 million ($5.7 million) for 2024 and would exceed £20 million ($25 million) in 2027.
The opening in spring 2023 of the port’s new South Harbour was a major boost to the area, since its deep water and expanded dock facilities enable it to accommodate most of the world’s cruise ship fleet. South Harbor’s capacity is for ships up to 985 feet long, 148 feet wide and 35 feet deep. (For context, the world’s largest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas, is 1,196 feet long.)
Before South Harbour was constructed, Aberdeen’s North Harbour facility could accommodate ships only up to 558 feet long.
“With South Harbour complete, we are fully focused on consolidating and accelerating growth in this key sector. This will be largely driven by increasing the number of larger cruise ships visiting the region and we’re having positive discussions with existing and prospective customers to secure this business,” said Bob Sanguinetti, CEO of the Port of Aberdeen.
“We’re confident that our world-class facility, coupled with the amazing destination, will position Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire as one of the UK’s top cruise destinations,” Sanguinetti added.
In 2024, the port will enjoy visits from several large cruise ships, such as Costa Cruises’ Costa Favolosa, a 951-foot ship with a capacity for 3,780 guests and 1,000 crew. Other large ships scheduled to call include AIDA Cruises’ AIDAsol and AIDAdiva, both accommodating 2,500 guests and 700 crew.
The port’s increase in cruise arrivals was a boon to local tour operators and businesses in the Aberdeen area. In 2023, some local business were able to expand, such as the Aberdeen Whisky Shop, which held whisky tasting events for cruise guests.
Historic and religious sites also saw many more visits by cruise arrivals. St. Machar’s Cathedral, which dates from the 12th century, saw a 40% increase in visitors thanks to cruise ship calls. That translated into 42,000 visitors and a 50% spike in donations and gift shop sales.
Port’s Expected Growth Is a Team Effort
The Port of Aberdeen’s effort to substantially expand its cruise business has given rise to a regional initiative called CruiseAberdeenshire, a collaboration between the Port of Aberdeen and the local tourism agency VisitAberdeenshire. Other government agencies involved in the program are Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeenshire Council, and VisitScotland.
The groups are working together to prepare the region for the expected rise in cruise passengers and provide the tourism infrastructure that cruise guests will expect.
“The growth in calls for 2024 is a vote of confidence in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire as an emerging cruise destination. VisitAberdeenshire is scaling up its work to enhance the welcome offered to passengers, the readiness of local suppliers and to secure more business from cruise operators and shore excursion companies,” said Chris Foy, CEO of VisitAberdennshire.
CruiseAberdeenshire will hold public information sessions for local businesses and others involved in port operations on February 21 and 28, 2024, at the South Harbor facility.