Today, the Valletta Waterfront, an area where most locals and swarms of tourists gather mostly for entertainment reasons, is one of the highlights of the capital city. Stephen Xuereb has been part of the Valletta Cruise Port journey from inception, seventeen years of progress, updates and improvements in the area. He is now the CEO at Valletta Cruise Port and devotes his time and energy to the wonders of this location. “This is an exciting role in a dynamic and fun industry, with no day like the other - it keeps me on my toes, and I like that,” Mr Xuereb tells Horeca Malta. “Three years ago, I was appointed Chief Operating Officer of the largest independent cruise port operator worldwide, Global Ports Holding plc, of which Valletta Cruise Port is a subsidiary.” This great feat saw Mr Xuereb entrusted with tasks that required a whole lot more responsibility. “Wearing the GPH hat, I am responsible for the overall performance of both cruise and commercial port operations of all the twenty ports in twelve countries across four continents falling under the GPH portfolio.” This huge task is one that dominates Mr Xuereb’s time but it’s also highly rewarding. “It’s an honour and privilege for me to be entrusted with this role at an exciting time in Global Ports Holding’s history. The dynamic company is growing strategically and constantly keeping its core value of accountability, excellence, respect and teamwork as the prime focus in all its endeavours.”
Valletta Cruise Port itself has experienced a 75% actualised growth rate between 2013 and 2019 - this proves that the economic worth of the area is vital to Malta, with far-reaching aspirations. Valletta Cruise Port has invested over €40m in developing one of the few dedicated cruise and ferry terminals in the Mediterranean after being awarded the licence for the operation of the cruise and ferry terminal in 2001. The success of Valletta Cruise Port parallels that of the Mediterranean cruise market and has a number of contributing factors that add to the country’s success in the industry including:
• Its strategic location that offers endless possibilities for Western and Eastern itineraries
• It welcomes cruise ships of all sizes from large resort class ships to luxury boutique lines
• It offers a fully modernised port and facilities equipped with all the necessities including check-in counters, waiting areas, screening equipment and other facilities
• It provides fast and efficient transfers from the airport to the seaport which is excellent for homeporting
• It is within walking distance to and from Valletta, the UNESCO World Heritage site with over 300 places of interest
• It is set within the natural beauty of the Grand Harbour, a historic site in Valletta.
From 2000 to 2018 passengers generated €400m to the Maltese economy, as recorded by independent studies. “The industry leaves a big impact on the local economy through services to ships, passengers and crew, incoming and outgoing flights through the Malta International Airport and on hotel accommodation where cruise and stay passengers have the option to spend a number of days in Malta prior to or after their cruise,” claims Mr Xuereb.
“More importantly, it is estimated that more than 80% of passengers visiting Malta on a cruise show interest to return to Malta for a longer land-based holiday. Indeed, the cruise industry gives the first taste of what Malta has to offer, leaving passengers hungry for more.”
In addition to the running and maintenance of the port, the restoration of historic buildings in the area, previously a no-go area, was also a key focus for the company. “The area known as the Valletta Waterfront has matured into one of the island’s most sought after business and entertainment destinations, and a key welcoming element of Valletta Cruise Port. Valletta Cruise Port has become one of the top fourteen ports of call in the Mediterranean with passenger movements in 2017 reaching 778,596 aboard 342 calls, 2018 with 711,018 passenger movements on 322 calls while 2019 is expected to be a record year - we dare say we will reach the 900,000 passenger movement mark, with both 2017 and 2019 being record years in the history of cruise industry in Malta,” Mr Xuereb proudly explains.
The Valletta Cruise Port has been presented with a host of awards, with some of the most recent ones being Best Terminal Operator by Cruise Insight, for two consecutive years and listed as Top-Rated Mediterranean Cruise Destination through Cruise Critic Cruisers’ Choice. While all the awards and moments of merit are the highlights of the hard work Mr Xuereb and his team put into the Valletta Cruise Port, there are also a number of challenges that they must face to strive for the best.
“With the right frame of mind challenges can be turned into opportunities,” says Mr Xuereb. “All is only possible with the drive, flexibility and perseverance of the people at Valletta Cruise Port and that of the supporting stakeholders. Working in synergy is the key to success. Cruise lines frequently highlight the need for a coordinated and collaborative joint approach in destinations. We work closely with all local partners from the handling agents to Malta International Airport and others. Indeed the Malta Cruise Network Forum meets on a monthly basis, involving essentially Valletta Cruise Port, the Ministry of Tourism, Malta Tourism Authority, Transport Malta and the Police, and involving other stakeholders who form part of this Forum on a case-by-case basis in order to look into pertinent matters.”
Malta, itself, is an island in flux. New events from art exhibitions, visual experiences to dance, drama, literature and science are held in the iconic capital hotspots and regenerated historic buildings, meaning no one visit to the island will be the same as the next. The investment in infrastructure and services both in the port and in the destination is constant. “We pride ourselves in keeping our product fresh - this we do both with capital and maintenance investment. We also invest in our human resources and in the guest experience,” Mr Xuereb told Horeca Magazine. “We strive for excellence and the drive of the Valletta Cruise Port team to always exceed customer expectations is at the core of this success. Communication, synergy and perseverance are vital - the skills allow us to respond as a unified team, efficiently and effectively as well as to preempt any challenges and turn them into opportunities.” Meanwhile Mr Xuereb and the team at Global Ports Holding have recently announced a 25-year lease agreement with the Government of the Bahamas for the Prince George Wharf and related areas at Nassau cruise port. “Nassau is one of the most popular cruise destinations in the world, attracting 3.7 million passengers per year so this agreement will bring lots of synergies, providing us with the opportunity for knowledge transfer, partnerships and exchanges,” says Xuereb.
The plans for growth in Malta’s cruise port industry are centered around ‘creating guest experiences’, a notion that Mr Xuereb explained as the industry’s primary message by “providing passengers with affordable vacations, relaxation and fun” - as levels in standards and expectations increase, so does the quality of the Valletta Cruise Port services, with innovation, speed and creativity as the industry’s driving-forces.