Where have all the cruise ships gone?
Cyprus needs to act now to save cruise tourism from becoming extinct
While stakeholders are trying to enhance Cyprus’ image as an attractive tourist destination in the eastern Mediterranean, the only cruise liner departing from a local port has been sold, raising questions on the future of cruise tourism.
A recent announcement from Salamis Cruises talked of a Memorandum of Agreement to sell off the company’s 43year-old vessel for a reported EUR 3.9 mln.
It is understood the company will be looking into buying another vessel, but as the Filoxenia is the only ship conducting cruises departing from Cyprus, there are doubts about the future of cruise tourism.
In earlier times, a number of operators, including Louis Cruise Lines, operated regular cruises from Cypriot ports which offered travellers cruises in the eastern Mediterranean, what was referred to as, the trip to three continents.
The ships would visit Lebanon, Israel and the Holy Lands, Egypt and Turkey, passing through the Greek islands.
Louis Cruise Lines successor, Celestyal Cruises Ltd, still runs cruises, but its ships depart from Piraeus port in Greece. Cypriots interested in booking a ticket on a Celestyal cruise will have to fly to Athens and make their way to Piraeus port.
A Cyprus Tourism Organisation official confirmed to the Financial Mirror that if the owner company of Filoxenia does not replace it, then Cyprus will be left without a cruise ship performing routes starting from a Cypriot port next year.
November 2019 is the next concrete date for cruises leaving from Cyprus.
CTO officer Christos Moustras said British tourist operator TUI will conduct a series of cruises from November next year and again between March and May 2020.
“These cruises are estimated to bring 19,000 tourists to the island,” said Moustras, confirming interest from tourists to go on cruises in the eastern Mediterranean.
He said these cruises will visit Alanya in Turkey, Ashdod in Israel and Port Said in Egypt, departing from Limassol.
Marela Cruises of the TUI Group has announced 13 new destinations leaving Limassol port for the winter season 2019-20.
The CTO officer said the TUI cruises is a reminder of the “good old days when we were promoting quite a significant number of cruises which were ‘making the tour to three continents’”.
“Strengthening cruise tourism will open significant growth potential with multiple benefits for the local economy, such as the creation of new jobs, an upgrade of infrastructure and improvement of services,” he said.
Moustras said the CTO is campaigning to convince local and foreign tour operators to organise cruises that depart from Cyprus.
“Our goal is to significantly increase passenger traffic through the ports of our country over the coming years,” he said.
Sector on its knees
One of the stakeholders which would like to see the state doing more is the Association of Cyprus Tourist Agents (ACTA).
Vasilis Stamataris, President of ACTA told the Financial Mirror that he expects the state to do more to support the sector which is going through a rough time.
“It has been proven that unfortunately without private initiative, the sector will die out. However, the private sector needs to be supported,” he said
Stamataris said that a decrease in demand coupled with high costs has made cruises an unprofitable business.
He said that although Cyprus’ geographical position allows easy access to the ports of Lebanon, Israel and Egypt, high insurance costs imposed by insurance companies, under the pretext that they operate in a high-risk region, are burdening the sector.
He said that the state could help by lowering direct and indirect taxes related to tour operations.
Stamataris did acknowledge that there is also a lack of cruise ship operators in Cyprus, noting that the state and the CTO should provide incentives for local operators to set up, or bring in operators from abroad to organise cruises from Cyprus.
“The private sector must be persuaded to reinvest in the cruise industry, especially now that destinations such as Egypt are starting to regain their former glory, with Cairo investing further in their heritage with the construction of a new museum,” said Stamataris.
Another major stakeholder in marine tourism calling for the state to intervene is the New Limassol Port operator DP World Limassol.
The company sees that in order to bring back the historical highs seen in the past, the government will need to introduce cruise incentives as seen in other neighbouring ports.
“Working in partnership is a key strand of engagement as we want our partners, stakeholders and the economy to feel the positive effects this opportunity brings to Cyprus. Incentive packages are important elements to attract more cruise liners in Cyprus,” said DP World in a statement to the Financial Mirror.
DP World has on several occasions said that they aim to increase passenger traffic of Limassol port by 35%.
Adding to expectations, the new passenger terminal of the port opened its gates in May 2018 and was to be a key element in facilitating the growth of the cruise tourism industry.
It has also recently launched a new online platform (www.limassolcruise.com) providing information aimed at promoting further the cruise tourism in Cyprus and providing support to cruise passengers and companies.
DP World Limassol said that the company’s plans for the passenger terminal and for enhancing cruise tourism have not been thwarted by recent developments.
“We are discussing with several cruise lines to establish Limassol as their home port. There are cruise lines such as Celestyal and Marella which are working with us to make this a reality over the next year,” said the company.
DP World said that its goal is to make Limassol a home port and an attractive choice for cruise companies thus, boosting the tourism industry and helping Cyprus regain its leading role in cruise tourism in the Mediterranean.
“Additionally, we aim to make use of the New Passenger Terminal throughout the year to conduct exhibitions, conferences and other activities.”