Mar. 12, 2020

Mercè Conesa


Mercè Conesa

President, Port of Barcelona

While the Port of Barcelona's numbers are nothing to sneeze at (a 10% YoY growth, 67.7 million tons total cargo handled, and cruise ship arrivals at capacity), the port is looking forward to doing business more sustainably.


Mercè Conesa has been President of the Port of Barcelona since 2018. Prior to her current position, she held positions including president of Diputació and mayor of Sant Cugat de Vallès. Conesa has a law degree from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and a masters in law from the Pompeu Fabra. She has also completed courses at IESE and ESADE business schools.

After its 150th anniversary, the Port of Barcelona achieved a record volume of traffic, increasing 10% YoY in 2018. To what do you owe this expansion, and what is your strategy for further growth?
First, we want to be more competitive and focus on improving our intermodal solutions. The Port of Barcelona is Spain's only port connected to Europe. We have excellent rail connections, which means we can send containers and goods to all European markets, while receiving goods from them. Therefore, the first vector of our strategy is competitiveness. The second is sustainable growth. We want to grow on a scale that can serve the market and invest in additional infrastructure only when absolutely required by market dynamics. The third focal point is innovation and digital transition for better customer orientation. We will close this year with interesting numbers, thanks to the US-China trade war. Although there is a fall in exports, we have also seen a rise in imports. Our total traffic amounts to 67.7 million tons, and 40-45% of this is imports, mainly from Asia. Two years ago, exports were significantly more important than imports, but now they are leveling out. A port can develop its business with an internal perspective, but our challenge is to explain to industries that the port is a goods gateway.

What percentage of your operations comes from cruise ships, and how do you cope with the influx of tourism traffic at the port?
We are a base port, which means the bulk of cruises begin and end here. This is an important point, because it means we can link these tourists to the rest of the city. We seek to maximize the quality of their visit in Barcelona. The link with the airport is also extremely important, because many cruise tourists arrive by plane. Additionally, some spend days after their cruise traveling around Catalonia, and we are an important partner in this. We have been working to push operations outside of peak season; today, around 60% of cruises are in peak season, and 40% are in the off season. Barcelona, though, cannot grow any more in terms of the cruises it hosts, having reached capacity levels. We have an agreement with the city to locate the cruises further from the city. We have also tried to improve facilities by joining forces with cruise companies to improve the touristic experience.

What are your primary objectives for 2020, and what is the biggest challenge you face in Barcelona today?
In 2020, we will focus on improving inter-modality between ship and rail. This is vital, as 34% of our volumes is by rail cargo. We would like to increase our radius and are keen to improve our direct shipping lines to Italy. We can reduce road traffic by nearly 100,000 trucks by putting trucks in ships, which also curbs emissions. The port's main challenge is to reduce CO2 emissions. We cannot do this alone, but must share the goal with companies, concessionaries, and the general public. Meanwhile, we plan to electrify all the port's wharves. We want to offer the most effective power-to-ship services by 2030, delivering clean energy while they are in the port. We want to be a zero-emissions port by 2030. We have started the process to create this new system and are working with the government to develop a special grid that will allow us to offer power once our model receives government approval. We expect to begin implementing the project by May 2020 and will launch subsequent phases in due course. Another area of considerable interest to us is LNG projects; we were the first port in the Mediterranean to develop bunkering in LNG. We have all the safety measures in place and have some cruises and ships using LNG. LNG is an interesting technology for shipping lines, though we know that it is not a final solution due to its emissions.