With an average of 1.7 daily flights connecting Athens International Airport with New York’s JFK, the only available route between the two countries, it is not surprising that global cruise players, such as Royal Caribbean Cruises, believe that Greece’s limited airlift capacity is not conducive to mega vessel deployment in the region, it was underlined during the 3rd Posidonia Sea Tourism Forum that concluded in Athens on Wednesday.
“With 50 percent of our customers coming from the US market this presents a major challenge for us,” said Adam Sharp, Head of Port Operations & Guest Port Services EMEA, for Royal Caribbean Cruises.
He also cited bureaucracy and long immigration queues as further obstacles hampering the appeal of Greece as a tier one destination for major cruise liners.
With the US market largely isolated by the Greek sea tourism product, the country pins its hopes to the emerging Chinese market which is currently underrepresented in Greece barely attracting just 100,000 of the annual 100 million outbound Chinese tourist trips annually.
Direct flights between Greece and China needed
Flight connectivity between the two countries is a significant barrier which needs to be addressed with the introduction of direct flights between key Chinese hub cities and Greek tourist destinations, according to H.E. Zou Xiaoli, Chinese Ambassador to Greece.
“The way of travel for Chinese people is changing from sightseeing and shopping to leisure and holiday-making and the only sure thing is that sea tourism will become a new favourite for the Chinese,” he said while addressing the Forum’s delegates during the China – Greek Tourism Cooperation Seminar & Investment Promotion for the Cruise & Yacht Industries of Hainan Province.
The ambassador also underlined that the visa issue is yet another barrier that needs to be addressed.
“With its numerous islands, the combination of beautiful natural sceneries of profound history and culture, its unique geographical location, the pleasant climate, food and warm-hearted people, Greece will surely attract more and more Chinese people. The Aegean sea in particular is a charming and romantic destination for the Chinese,” he added.
But for more Chinese to come and savour the magic of the Aegean and Ionian Seas, Greece needs to heavily invest in its tourism infrastructure and treat its ports as strategic assets in order to deliver outcomes such as sustainable jobs creation, according to Michel Nestour, Vice President, Destination Development, Carnival Corporation PLc.
“Greece could accelerate its own cruise momentum like Barcelona has done in the past which is number one in Europe. Savonarola is also another example with one million passenger movement just because they treated this as a long term strategic partnership with a cruise liner,” he said.
GTP is a media sponsor of this year’s Posidonia Sea Tourism Forum.