Uncertainty as to when cruise operations can recommence at a viable level to sustain the industry is one of the challenges this market is facing, participants told this year’s digital Posidonia Sea Tourism Forum on Tuesday.
TUI restarted operations last week from Crete and its plan for this summer is to purely offer Greece cruises from Iraklio with two different itineraries. “If more travel restrictions are lifted, we will return to other itineraries. But from May to October Greece is the only destination we are offering,” said TUI Cruises chief executive officer Wybcke Meier.
According to MSC Cruises, certain regions such as Asia and North America are still off limits for the cruise sector; however, CEO Gianni Onorato predicts that more Europeans will turn to cruising the region this summer as they are cut off from intercontinental destinations due to airlift restrictions and travel protocols. He said, “The green certificate will allow more Europeans to focus on Europe, and Greece will be one of the main destinations for them.”
Michael Thamm, group CEO at Costa Group and Carnival Asia, agreed: “Greece is a pillar for Germans, Italians and French due to its beauty and the natural desire to see the country, and cruising is the best way to do that. We want to extend our presence in Greece beyond the season even to December. Both our brands have resumed operations in Greece and there will be more ships coming to Greece.”
But popularity may present some challenges according to Chris Theophilides, CEO at Celestyal Cruises, the company which uses Greece as its homeporting base and knows the market better than any other operator: “High concentration of ships at any particular point in time may be a challenge especially in Greek ports due to infrastructure issues. We need to avoid any high volume of guests at any given point. It’s not only the responsible thing to do but it is also the right thing to do, both from a guests’ experience point of view as well as for the local communities.”
Meier shared the concerns: “Overtourism may be over in a post-pandemic world, but we should make sure we don’t have too many ships at the same time in the same ports. Islands need to have a plan on the number of ships they can accept at the same time. And port operators need to have the infrastructure to accept bigger ships.”
Piraeus Port Authority (OLP) Deputy CEO Captain Weng Lin appeared confident at the same event that Greece’s biggest port will have the necessary infrastructure in place when demand has rebounded in full and bigger ships start heading Piraeus, also needing bunkering with liquefied natural gas.
“We will be able to accommodate the new generation of cruise ships, such as those of Carnival and other major companies, at our new pier that will be ready soon,” pledged the official of the Cosco-owned authority: “That pier will be able to accommodate the biggest cruise ships and will be LNG-ready,” he assured.