This was the main message conveyed during the first day of the 5th Posidonia Sea Tourism Forum that opened Tuesday at Domotel Kastri Conference Centre in Athens, where ministers, representatives of international cruise associations, cruise lines, destination authorities and decision-makers gathered to debate the state of the industry and share their views and insights on the trends shaping sea tourism in the southeast Mediterranean and the Black Sea.
Greece at a crossroads
'Greece is at a crossroads of the cruise sector’s development trajectory and the ongoing privatization of the country’s ports is constantly opening new bespoke investment opportunities for industry players from around the globe with the intent and vision to further develop and enhance their offering for the benefit of cruise passengers,' said Fotis Kouvelis, minister of maritime affairs and insular policy.
'Greece will move ahead with concessions regarding port-specific sectors including terminals and we are inviting international cruise lines and port operators to identify the investment opportunities matching their specific interests.'
Greece accounts for 10% of the Mediterranean region’s port calls, a significant number globally considering that the region is second only to the Caribbean in terms of fleet deployment. And, according to Airam Diaz Pastor, president of MedCruise, the country and the East Med region in general are set to benefit from a 22.2% increase in passenger numbers and 19.8% growth in port calls projected for the entire Mediterranean in 2019. 'The region is seeing a golden age in terms of growth and the planned deployment of some 25 new luxury ships that are coming to the market soon will provide a fresh impetus giving smaller ports the opportunity to offer something different,' he added.
Med market leader MSC still cautious on Turkey, Egypt
MSC, the biggest cruise line in the Mediterranean with 15.07% of the market, is also bullish on the prospects of the Eastern Mediterranean as a cruise destination where it plans to increase capacity by 25%.
'We really like this region with its natural beauty, its diverse culture and rich historical attractions, yet we still remain conscious of certain geopolitical challenges that will keep us away from the Turkish market for now. We are actively considering Turkey and Egypt for our potential return in the future,' said Bud Darr, EVP maritime policy and government affairs, MSC Group.
'The lack of political stability in the wider region, with its geopolitical hot spots of Northern Africa and elsewhere, remain an obstacle to us believing we are ready to operate there. We are still not convinced that it would be responsible for us to take our passengers in some of those locations. Beyond our views, you also have to win the hearts and minds of tourists whose confidence was broken due to events in the region.'
Safety/security top priority for Cyprus tourism
Safety and security are key issues also for Cyprus, having lost 85% of cruise passengers since 2010 in spite of a significant uplift in the number of tourists visiting the island.
But as the Tourism Deputy Minister for Cyprus Savvas Perdios said during his Posidonia Sea Tourism Forum keynote speech, the island nation is eyeing a larger share of the market. 'Cyprus is ready to pull its weight since we launched a ministry dedicated to our tourism industry five months ago. We have pinpointed safety and security as our number one priority for the growth of our tourism product and earmarked the cruise sector as a top ten strategic pillars in our 2030 strategy.'
Emerging market trends
Tom Broadley, secretary general, CLIA Europe, gave a different sort of a top 10 list, describing the emerging trends likely to shape the future of the cruise industry globally. Highlights include the aptly dubbed 'Instagrammable cruising,' which helps spread awareness about this holiday alternative, 'achievement over axperience,' where passengers seek to learn a new skill like cooking or dancing during their cruise, and 'conscious travel,' with passengers mindful of the environmental impact caused by cruise ships and dictates the ways they interact with the communities at the destinations they visit.
Other topics tabled during the Forum include the prospects for cruising in the East Med, partnerships between ships, ports and destinations for sustainable tourism, the region’s potential to offer year-round cruise products and the overall impact from the dramatic growth of mainstream cruise ship sizes.
The Forum is being attended by 200 delegates including senior executives from MSC Cruises, Carnival Group, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., Holland America Group, Silversea Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Fred. Olsen Cruise Line and Celestyal Cruises, and representatives of regional ports and destinations.
The 5th Posidonia Sea Tourism Forum is organised under the auspices of the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Maritime Affairs & Insular Policy and is supported by the Hellenic Chamber of Shipping, CLIA Europe, the Association of Mediterranean Cruise Ports, the Hellenic Professional Yacht Owners Association, the Greek Marinas Association, the Association of Passenger Shipping Companies, the Union of Cruise Ship Owners & Associated Members, the Federation of Hellenic Associations of Tourist and Travel Agencies.
Gold Sponsor is the Greek National Tourism Organisation. Silver sponsors are the Piraeus Port Authority, HEMEXPO and the Thessaloniki Port Authority, Bronze Sponsors are Air France–KLM, Aktina Travel Group, Celestyal Cruises, Global Ports Holding and Intercruises Shoreside and Port Services and supporters are the Athens International Airport and FBIS Security.