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Interview – Yiannis Mattheos: Yachting Tourism Needs Support, Not Obstacles

Caldera Yachting CEO Yiannis Mattheos.

Caldera Yachting CEO Yiannis Mattheos.

As the year is coming to an end, Yiannis Mattheos, the CEO of Caldera Yachting, gives us an update on his company’s activities and brings to our attention the challenges the yachting industry is facing in Greece.

Caldera Yachting specializes in yachting in the area of Santorini and provides a full range of vessels of high standards, including catamarans, motor yachts, sailing boats and traditional boats. The company offers cruise packages that ensure flexibility to its customers, either to choose a group cruise, sharing and enjoying the beauty of the island, or to create their own private program, experiencing a completely personalized excursion.

Yiannis informs on Caldera Yachting’s strategic territories of development, speaks of the company’s plans for 2019 and also names the challenges that the yachting industry is up against, with one of the most crucial being the new Greek legislation involving the value-added tax (VAT) for the industry.

“In this difficult challenge we need the support of the State and not obstacles in our activity with hikes in taxes and legal regulations,” Yiannis tells GTP Headlines.

GTP: Let’s start off with the latest. Caldera Yachting recently shined at the 1st International Travel and Tourism Awards held in London during the WTM trade show. But, of course, this isn’t the first time Caldera Yachting has been recognized globally…

Caldera Yachting CEO Yiannis Mattheos received the award from Marcelo Risi, Director of Communications at UNWTO.Yiannis Mattheos: This year we accomplished a very important distinction at the International Travel & Tourism Awards in London, initiated and sponsored by the World Travel Market (WTM) trade show, one of the most important events worldwide in the tourism industry. It was a great honor for our company to win the Silver Award in the category “Best in Luxury” as the only Greek participation that succeeded in receiving such a distinction in that category. This achievement is very important to us, because it gives an important edge in an extremely competitive market and at the same time confirms our efforts to ensure and maintain the high quality standard of services offered to clients all these years. This is the second successive year that Caldera Yachting has been honored internationally. In Greece, the company has been awarded for 4 consecutive years, holding the lead in important categories of the Tourism Awards event.

GTP: What are the company’s key strategic pillars?

Yiannis Mattheos: So far, the company has built a robust name in the market showing remarkable growth results, given the peculiarities of the economic upswing of recent years. Caldera Yachting follows a clear growth strategy that focuses on two pillars:

  • providing high quality services with specialized and personalized programs, offering a full range of vessels, and
  • attracting and maintaining strategic partnerships by creating relationships of conformity.

Our main concern is the focused effort for the company to maintain the quality in its services, always emphasizing on top customer service. We are working to strengthen our position in the tourism market, regardless of any changes in the economic and social environment or other circumstances. We aim to create stable and long-term benefits by investing in high quality and in the competitive advantages that we can offer through our services.

GTP: What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face in the industry?

Yiannis Mattheos: The biggest challenges? I must say that they are quite a few:

– the volatility of economic conditions, which brought changes in the tourism market, as well as in the habits of visitors,
– the increase in visitors every year to the island, even during the winter period,
– the diversity of the culture, but also of the customer requirements during different seasons of the year,
– the opportunities for extending the tourism season,
– the intense competitiveness of the local tourism environment,
– the changes in legislation concerning yachting.

GTP: Can you give us some details on the new Greek legislation involving the value-added tax (VAT) for the yachting industry? How does it affect the operation of companies offering yachting services?

Yiannis Mattheos: Two major amendments to the legislation, which relate to the VAT exemption method, burden business by 12 percent. Before October 2018, exploitation of commercial pleasure yachts was subject to 24 percent VAT with a deduction of 50 percent. This deduction was granted due to the complexity of the Greek islands and as an obligatory counter balance measure to the pricing policy of the Turks. From now on, under these two amendments, in order to receive the 50 percent VAT deduction we must prove that 50 percent of the total travel must be in international waters (at least 6 miles from any coastline). The concept of proving the 50 percent in international waters is at least ridiculous and in fact it can not be proven. That is why we are forced to raise market prices, driving our product out of competition.
Please note that the VAT rate for hotels is 13 percent! We have requested the same treatment as a common ground of business similarity and also due to the competitiveness between the two tourism sectors of the same country. The reply of course was that we have 12 percent VAT rate (if we achieve the impossible!).
As a conclusion, prices will increase for the same product and with no excuse and this, together with the uncertainty of any new last minute legislation for “whatever”, creates a regime of uncertainty that repels serious businessmen and establishes a hostile environment for a well-established business (in fact one of the healthiest business in Greece).

GTP: Tourism is one of the main pillars of Greece’s economy. Do you feel that tourism professionals have the state’s support for further development?

Yiannis Mattheos: First of all I must say that season 2018 has been recorded as the best year in tourism, with new record revenues. This momentum should be maintained for 2019 also and for that reason we must not rest on our laurels. We must strengthen even further our competitive position in the international tourism market to capitalize on the development benefits. This is the direction we as entrepreneurs, but also the State, should follow.

From our part, we have to deal with a dynamic and constantly growing market and in this difficult challenge we need the support of the State and not obstacles in our activity with hikes in taxes and legal regulations.

Moreover, what is essential and crucial for yachting is improving the infrastructure that would give a significant boost to local initiatives, which undoubtedly underpin the economy.

The country’s exit from the fiscal adjustment programs after the years of crisis sent positive signals that the issues of taxes and various burdens on tour operating and yachting should be re-examined.

It is also important to mention that although the neighboring countries began to see their tourism recover in 2018, Greece maintained its competitive advantage as a destination. However, this fact should not leave us indifferent because we have to compete with very strong infrastructure especially in yachting that will contribute to their very fast comeback.

GTP: It has been repeated that tourism infrastructure is a determinant of development. What needs to be done in terms of infrastructure for the yachting industry?

Yiannis Mattheos: We need marina layout measures to set the foundations for new investment projects in yachting with an emphasis on the islands of Cyclades and especially Santorini, which represents the largest activity in the category. The development of marinas – medium and large – will ensure a real added value. We offer a luxurious product without having the infrastructure that is in line with luxury and that is not unnoticed by the visitor.

GTP: How does Caldera Yachting offer yacht lovers a different charter experience, compared to other companies in the industry?

Yiannis Mattheos: The quality of service leaves its mark on the real experience and that is what differentiates us from competition. That is the vision expressed by our motto “The experience of a lifetime”. The differentiation lies in one key element, creating an experience, highlighting all the elements that will give a unique dimension and added value in every minute of a customer’s trip. The customer realizes the uniqueness of this experience and it culminates throughout the journey.

GTP: What are the strategic territories of development for Caldera Yachting?

Yiannis Mattheos: A very important area of interest that we want to develop is the category of chartering for more than one day, allowing customers to rent the boat from Santorini base or other alternative ports of their choice that we can serve. This activity made its first steps during 2018 in order to map out the needs and to prepare for a more dynamic shot in 2019. We invest on integrated platforms in order to give a full functional shape for the customer to choose and create their own charter experience, providing all the details they need and that will ensure a completed vacation package.

Moreover we intend to develop our activities in markets that have a special dynamic such as the Arabian market. It is a huge and dynamically developing visitor market of high income and high purchasing power. Specific targets and a strategy is needed to bring these markets closer to us, taking into account the specific characteristics of the customers and their requirements. There are particularities in culture but also in the lifestyle that lead their vacation choices. We need to build strong and credible relations with local tourism influencers and this is our target in penetrating these markets.

GTP: In regards to fleet development this year what should we expect from Caldera Yachting?

Yiannis Mattheos: We have made considerable investments in recent years as to the purchase of vessels. Our goal is to create flexible schemes that will serve the requests of our customers in the best possible way. Vessels of all categories – sailing boats, catamaran, traditional and motor yachts – give the answer to all desires. Our fleet in 2019 will be roughly 20 vessels of all categories. We will offer a full range of all inclusive cruise packages with different routes as well as the flexibility for the customer to plan his own personal program. Private choices, special occasions, weddings, charters for more than one day, full packages and alternative proposals are offered for a complete yachting experience.

GTP: Santorini is one of the few Greek islands that is promoting itself as a year-round tourism destination. How is this progressing?

Yiannis Mattheos: The yachting industry is a focal point for attracting high-level tourism to the island. The company’s decision to create the appropriate conditions for supporting initiatives to extend the island’s tourism season and thus give practical support and contribution to the economic development of the destination was an important challenge. Winter visitors are much more demanding because the weather conditions allow for specific and limited activities and the company succeeded in offering a structured and complete winter tour package – the “Caldera Panorama” – over the last three years. It’s a proposal affordable in price, high quality and that exceeded expectations. This initiative was an efficient sales tool for our partners that remained open during the winter season, giving them an alternative activity to suggest to their clients. This period literally changed the myth that Santorini is a strictly summer destination due to the insular region. Santorini can offer significant experiences all the time because I strongly believe that it really don’t have seasons, it creates them.

Caldera Yachting in the waters surrounding Santorini Island.

Caldera Yachting in the waters surrounding Santorini Island.

GTP: From time to time it has been heard that Santorini is falling victim to the so-called “overtourism” problem. How do you see the situation from a professional point of view?

Yiannis Mattheos: Santorini lacks infrastructure at many levels, as I previously mentioned, not only in our own field but also in hospitality. Demand is extremely high and there are periods that services can not be provided. There is serious investment activity at the moment from large hotel units that will certainly help to increase the number of beds on the island. However, we are called upon to defend the quality of our services, even at times when our visitors surpass our limits. A beautiful scene or an idyllic view of the sunset is not enough to confirm the quality of hospitality. Each of us that is active on the island is required to offer only the best, so the visitor can keep the real memory of the destination associated with its people. The challenge is to make each visitor feel unique and not that he/she is one of many.

GTP: 2018 has been labeled as another record year for Greek tourism. How was the year for Caldera Yachting? What is your forecast for the 2019 tourism season in Greece (based on early bookings)?

Yiannis Mattheos: 2018 was in fact a very good year for the company, registering a rise of clients by 50 percent. All of the company’s indexes are growing in terms of turnover and sales, as well as in growth rates at the level of new partner companies (B2B). These figures were achieved with much effort and high management costs, regardless of the tax hikes we have suffered. We maintain our goal, which is to not change the quality of our offered services, regardless of the way the economic climate might be changing. We rationalize the data and move forward by adapting our activity. For 2019, considering the demand so far, bookings are on a very good pace. The momentum of the next season has already begun to form, which means that the image being shaped will help us prepare more effectively.

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About the Author
Nikos is Greek-American born in New York, USA, and has lived in Greece for over 30 years. He is the managing editor of Greece's leading monthly travel and tourism guide, the Greek Travel Pages (GTP) since June 2008 and of news site GTP Headlines since its launch in September 2012. Nikos has also served as international press officer for the City of Athens and for the mayor. He has a degree in Mass Media and Communications, specializing in Journalism. Nikos is a native English speaker and speaks Greek fluently.

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