The key challenges obstructing the growth of cruising in the East Med were analyzed by representatives of three of the world’s biggest cruise lines during the second day of the 5th Posidonia Sea Tourism Forum (PSTF) in Athens.
According to the representatives, the main challenges include regional volatility, the small available pool of cruise-ready ports, an acute lack of buses and tour guides at destinations during peak times and infrastructure that is unable to cope with increasing numbers of cruise guests.
During the forum, Greece was mentioned as one of the East Med destinations in need of improved cruise infrastructure.
In spite of the existing challenges in Greece, Disney Cruise Lines is returning to the country this summer with nine and 12-night itineraries connecting marquee Aegean ports with Venice and the Adriatic. Also, MSC is adding a fifth ship in East Med increasing its available capacity by 26.4 percent and the company will deploy another ship in 2020 to fuel capacity by a further 25 percent.
According to cruise experts, growing guest numbers are expected to put further pressure on existing infrastructure at traditional ports of call as the extra capacity cannot be dispersed to smaller, but equally attractive destinations which are still not cruise-ready.
“Disney Cruises ships can approach only six Greek ports and that’s a shame,” said Paul Britton, Manager, Marine Operations, Ports and Itinerary Planning, Disney Cruise Lines, which is returning to the country this year with port calls in Piraeus, Santorini, Mykonos and Katakolo.
Greece missing the ‘hidden gems’ ports ingredient
“There are certain components for a pleasant cruise experience starting with a great homeport and airlift capacity. Then you need to be able to offer a selection of a few strong marquee ports, a coherent itinerary, well balanced sea-days and a big final port or experience. Greece offers all of these, but what’s missing is the ‘hidden gems’ ports ingredient, in spite of boasting 100 inhabited islands and an archipelago of nearly 6,000 smaller islands and islets,” said Britton.
Alexandros Fan, Product and Buying Corporate Shorex Excursions, MSC Cruises said that increasing demand for shore excursions is an important issue that needs to be addressed.
“Finding an adequate number of buses and guides during peak times is a major problem and all stakeholders need to work together and find solutions in order to develop a more sustainable cruise offering and product,” he said. “We need to have proper facilities and adequate infrastructure to serve and cater to our big ships,” he added.
According to Elena Vlad, Director of Shorex Excursions, Product Development & Operations, Holland America Group, the most appealing destinations for cruise companies are those that offer commercial benefits and operational efficiencies at competitive costs.
Minister: Government working towards addressing issues
Meanwhile, the Greek government is aware of the challenges and the wants of cruise companies and is working towards addressing the issues to alleviate stakeholder concerns.
“We are facing the challenges. The problems are not insurmountable, but they do require flexibility, fresh ideas, close collaboration and coordination between the government, associations and the private sector,” said Greek Tourism Minister Thanasis Theocharopoulos during the forum.
According to Theocharopoulos, Greece is expecting a 7 percent increase in cruise guests this year.
Cruise experts expect the challenges in the country to accentuate until ongoing infrastructure improvements materialize.