Representatives from all sectors of the Falkland Islands tourism industry met at Government House on Wednesday evening for the annual presentation of the Falkland Islands Tourist Board (FITB) awards and to celebrate a cruise ship season which brought 62,505 passengers to the islands.
The previous record set in 2008/9 was twenty less and had been followed by four seasons of decline. However, FITB reports that since 2013 growth in visitor numbers has been strong, and next season looks set to break the records again with around 70,000 visitors being forecast.
This season, FITB tells us, it was the larger cruise vessels, which only call in Stanley, that drove the growth in passenger numbers. They carried almost 49,500 visitors, up from 44,000 in 2017-2018.
Expedition cruise visitors remained broadly static at around 13,000. However, Executive Director of FITB Stephanie Middleton, reports that this sector is due to experience rapid expansion with over 20 new vessels due to launch before the end of 2022.
Many of these are expected to operate in the South Atlantic and Antarctic region and will be carrying more passengers as well as bringing new levels of luxury to this market.
In a recent press release by FITB, Ms Middleton reports that the United States once again provided the largest number of cruise ship visitors, with over 22,000, of whom 84% arrived on large cruise vessels.
The second largest market, the UK, generated just over 8,000 visitors, with 72% arriving on large cruise vessels. Ms Middleton added: “cruise passengers from the UK in particular are switching from the larger cruise
vessels to the expedition ships.
The other market we are watching is the Chinese. There were 1,700 arrivals this season, which is still relatively small, however they have been consistently growing at almost 30% per annum for the last six years”.
Canada, Germany and Australia were the next three largest markets after the USA and UK, with Argentina in sixth, generating just over 2,000 visitors, a significant drop on the previous season.
In Camp, expedition cruise vessels made 143 calls. West Point was the most visited island, with 32% of all visits, followed by Saunders Island (24%) and Carcass Island (17%).
Commenting on this success, which had drawn 74,000 visitors into the re-vamped Visitor Centre, Governor Mr Nigel Phillips drew the gathering’s attention to the fact that 61% of the cruise ship passengers surveyed during the season described the visit to the Falklands as “essential” or “very important.” Given the other destinations such as Antarctica and South Georgia visited by some of the cruise ships which come here, he described this level of approval as “brilliant” and saying a lot about the amount of work that had gone in to making the Falklands an attractive venue to come to.
Praising the recently-introduced Green Seal Grant Scheme which is designed to encourage the environmentally conscious operation of tourist accommodation, the Governor also welcomed the widening of the range of activities available for visitors. In particular, he mentioned Falklands Outdoors’ offering of kayaking, rock-climbing and mountaineering, and the newly-licenced Falkland Islands Helicopter Services, describing it as “an absolutely fantastic thing.”
In his concluding remarks, the Governor made mention of the opportunities that the proposed second flight would bring to tourism and praised “the fantastic team effort to get us to where we are.” The deal was not quite sealed, but he hoped it would be in the very near future.
Speaking immediately after the Governor, after welcoming those present and commenting on the good turn-out for the tourism wash-up meeting held the previous evening, FITB Chair, Sally Ellis, also stressed the important contribution that the second flight would make to the development of ground-based tourism in the Islands. There were already, she claimed, investors hoping to expand the available range of tourist accommodation, once the second flight became a reality.
Describing the evening as one celebrating successes, particularly the successes achieved by individuals and organisations across the range of tourism activities, who would be receiving their awards later in the evening, Mrs. Ellis also turned her attention to what she described as the successful involvement of FIG in the development of a long-term plan for tourism. The Tourism Development Strategy was currently under review and aimed at providing a vision for how tourism in the Falklands might develop over the next ten to twenty-five years.
Quite apart from the second flight, there was, she knew, a lot of work going on behind the scenes, whether about the new port, improvements to the air terminal, or other things which would improve the infrastructure essential for tourism growth.
The evening concluded with the presentation of tour guide certificates and the awards for the usual categories, which we list elsewhere. Apart from certificates, the winners this year each received a beautifully sculptured wren mounted on a wooden plinth, created by Steve Massam. (Penguin News)