Following a lull of two decades due to frequent geopolitical tensions in the Middle East, the once bustling cruising sector is witnessing a revival, with Cyprus seeing a big chunk of the action.
The recent string of announcements by major international cruise lines with plans to set sail for Cyprus this summer has boosted the confidence of stakeholders that the sector could boost the island’s coronavirus-stricken tourism sector.
Royal Caribbean, Celestyal, Seabourn, Azamara and Celebrity are all making a dynamic return to Cyprus by early July, which is poised to be the busiest month, with cruises going strong until October 2021.
In comments to the Financial Mirror, Celestyal CEO Chris Theophilides confirmed stakeholders’ estimates for a rekindling of the cruise sector in Cyprus, attributing the revival partly to authorities’ successful handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
“Both the Cypriot and Greek authorities were swift to offer desperately needed assistance to cruise companies given their need for berthing and anchorage space, as well as the facilitation of crew repatriation and other vitally important services,” said Theophilides.
The Celestyal CEO sees that Cyprus and Greece swiftness to lay down the protocols was catalytic towards building this season and laying the foundation for the sector to grow further.
Moreover, he said, Cyprus and Greece are among the first European countries to open their ports to cruise ships, thus creating a unique opportunity to play a leading role as ports of embarkation as well as destinations in the coming years.
Celestyal is part of the Louis Group and following on from the parent company’s eight decades long tradition of pioneering in Cyprus tourism.
“Celestyal is committed to developing cruising in Cyprus, and has been working on a two-pronged development plan for Cyprus – that of a port of call and that of a turnaround port,” said Theophilides.
He said that Celestyal is introducing Cyprus to international guests who hail from source markets that are typically beyond the traditional nationalities that frequent the island for land-based vacations.
“In 2019, our 120,000 passengers comprised 140 nationalities. Approximately 50% of our passenger base is from North America, 10% from Latin America, 10% from Asia and Australia, and 20% from Europe”.
Summer itineraries from Limassol
He added that Celestyal is focusing on developing Cyprus as a source market by introducing new summer itineraries departing from Limassol that are specifically designed with local tastes in mind.
“We are excited to have recently introduced our seven-night ‘Legendary Archipelago’ itinerary visiting the Greek islands along with Athens and Thessaloniki during July and August.”
The American cruise giant Royal Caribbean is also making its way to the region setting up a base in Limassol from where it will carry out cruises from Limassol to a number of Greek islands.
Director of Hotel Operations, Christos Karavos, told the Financial Mirror that the eastern Mediterranean is the newest hotspot for cruises.
Royal Caribbean will operate new seven-night cruises to Greece and Cyprus on the super cruiser Jewel of the Seas starting 10 July.
Through to October, the voyages will depart from Limassol, visiting Athens and the Greek islands of Rhodes, Crete, Mykonos and Santorini.
“We all know the East Mediterranean provides unparalleled marquee destinations, areas of exquisite natural beauty, as well as historical destinations of significant cultural significance,” said Karavos.
He said that the Jewel of the Seas will call Cyprus home for the first time and will sail to Greece and the Greek isles through to October.
Return to Europe
“Cyprus will play a part in our safe and gradual return to Europe and we have no doubt that the region will live up to the expectations of our guests,” he said.
Aspiring to carry tens of thousands of passengers on their cruises, Royal Caribbean’s 2,700-passenger Jewel of the Seas has pools, whirlpools, vitality spa and fitness centre, speciality bars and restaurants.
Spanning 13 decks, the ship also has a rock-climbing wall, casino, sports court, nine-hole miniature golf course, outdoor movie screen and more.
Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean cancelled a new line scheduled to run from Israel to Cyprus from next month.
The anticipated route would have been carried out by the new ship Odyssey of the Seas which would have brought delight to tourism stakeholders, as the trips would have attracted thousands more tourists.
Karavos said that bookings for cruises with the Jewel have started flying both from locals on the island, but from the UK and Germany as well. They have booked charter flights to carry British and German tourists to the island for the cruise.
“These people will be spending a few nights in hotels in Cyprus, travelling and eating at restaurants and visiting sights. A short study we carried out for the impact on the Cyprus economy shows that our cruises are to generate a minimum of EUR 70 mln income for the island’s economy,” said Karavos.
He said the study showed that Caribbean will be spending some EUR 200,000 alone for supplies for the Jewel of the Seas in vegetables and other foodstuff from Cyprus.
“Authorities (in Cyprus and Greece) have done great work in putting in place protocols concerning the coronavirus, which has made our task easier,” he said, adding that the two countries have similar demands from visitors.
“Looking ahead, Cyprus and Greece should consider their strategic plan going forward, so much when it comes to cooperating with cruise sector stakeholders, but also joint tourism projects,” he added.
He explained that Cyprus will also have to go ahead with investment projects, if it would like to see more large cruise ships embarking in its ports.
“There is room for improvement, making ports bigger and more accessible to larger cruise ships, such as the Jewel of the Seas,” he concluded.