Kicking off the session, Stavros Hatzakos, general manager of Port of Piraeus and chairman of ESPO’s fledgling Cruise and Ferry Port Network, spoke of the ongoing work among members in developing a Code of Good Practice for EU cruise and ferry ports. ‘I think we can produce something positive, especially for the southern Mediterranean countries that are experiencing challenging times,’ he said.
Hatzakos remarked that a survey by MedCruise showed 33% of cruise terminals in the Eastern Mediterranean are operated by private companies that appear to be driving infrastructure investment in the region.
Thanos Pallis, secretary general of MedCruise, added that 63% of port authorities canvassed across the Mediterranean are autonomous and can make their own decisions regarding investment plans. But of the remainder many do not own the land or need interventions from state authorities, which often holds back the speed of development plans.
Providing an update on Piraeus infrastructure improvements, Hatzakos said the €136m expansion plan to build three cruise berths for large ships at the entrance of Greece’s leading cruise hub should go out to tender next month. Some 94% of the cost is funded by EU financing, already secured, and the remainder by Piraeus Port Authority.
Only a few of Greece’s 1,150 ports have adequate facilities to cater to cruise ships and even fewer to the ships with 4,000-plus passenger capacity.
Carnival Corp. & plc’s Michel Nestor, vp port and destination development EuroMed, said, ‘Greece has failed to leverage its natural beauty and ideal location because it lacks in basic infrastructure, not just in a few ports but also in roads as well as flight connections with key feeder markets which are necessary to attract the larger vessels.’
He urged port authorities to consider long-term strategy partners, including cruise lines, when planning new facilities. Nestor cited Barcelona and Savona as examples where this is working well. ‘Cruise lines as co-investors can provide ships which in turn will create much needed jobs and a return on investment,’ he said.
Addressing the country’s economic woes, Nestor commented, ‘Tourism is Greece and Greece is tourism … and cruise tourism should be part of any growth.’
Nestor urged, ‘Hold your heads high: we are there to help you make investment decisions but we cannot make the decisions for you.’
Adam Sharp, head of port operations & guest port services EMEA at Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., concurred: ‘The single biggest issue holding back cruising in Greece is not enough flights coming from the leading source market of the US.’
With an average of 1.7 daily flights between Athens International Airport and New York’s JFK and with 50% of its passengers coming from the US this is a major problem for Royal Caribbean, he remarked.
Sharp noted only 10 to 15 Greek cruise ports provide immigration processing, making them accessible to ships coming from Turkish ports, ‘which is why there is congestion in certain Greek destinations as we are all seeking out the same ports of call.’
Talking of congestion—or ‘more to the point, the Santorini issue,’ as Sharp called it—he urged, ‘Do not spend a single euro more on marketing Santorini as when people think of Greece this is the image they have in mind and this is where they want to go but if there are five ships in port in one day it does not match up to their expectations.'
Sharp added, ‘Someone in Santorini needs to say no when receiving multiple requests for cruise ship calls on certain days.’
The panelists cited several factors influencing the current deployment of very large cruise ships in East Med waters, not least the 96,000gt limit on ships calling Venice for the foreseeable future.
However Istanbul’s main cruise berth undergoing refurbishment, the lack of airlift, the slow immigration process in Greek ports coupled with geopolitical issues to the south, are all contributing to fewer mega cruise ships sailing in the region, they concurred.