Following a dry spell of almost two decades, cruises are returning to the island adding value to Cyprus’ tourist product. Cyprus had a strong presence on the cruise ships circuit from the early 1980s to the beginning of the 21st century, with three companies active in the sector.
As conflict in the wider region worsened, from 2000 onwards, cruises to and from Cyprus came to a virtual standstill.
In 2018 a total of 20 vessels made 31 stops at Limassol Port, this year the number of arrivals at the port is expected to double as 31 cruise ships are to make a total of 60 stops.
According to the schedule issued for next year, cruises planning a call at Cyprus ports will increase to 74.
In addition, this year, Salamis Cruise Lines with its Salamis Filoxenia vessel is using Limassol as its home port with 32 cruises to the Greek islands, Alexandria in Egypt and Israel’s Ashdot included in the tour.
In earlier times, operators including Louis Cruise Lines, Salamis Cruises and Paradise Cruises operated regular trips from Cyprus which offered travellers an itinerary of Lebanon, Israel, Egypt and Turkey and the Greek islands.
Louis Cruise Lines successor, Celestyal Cruises Ltd, still runs cruises, but its ships, until this year departed from Piraeus in Greece. Cypriots wanting to book a Celestyal cruise would have to make their way to Piraeus port for the journey.
But Celestyal Cruises has now decided to put Cyprus back on its list of destinations, with Cypriots having the opportunity to hop on a cruise ship in Limassol as of December.
Moreover, Fred Olsen Cruise Lines has included in its itineraries visits to and from Limassol while Marella Cruises (TUI) has announced 13 new routes from Limassol for the 2019/2020 winter season, beginning in November.
Talking to the Financial Mirror, a Deputy Ministry of Tourism official said Cyprus is following the general upward trend of European cruise passengers which has risen to 6.96mln in 2017, a 7.8% increase on 2015.
Marketing officer Christos Moustras said that the Deputy Ministry hopes to see the cruise industry regain its past glory, helping to diversify the island tourist product, as tourists will be offered the possibility to extend their holiday to neighbouring destinations such as Egypt, Israel and the Greek Islands.
Moustras said that up to 2001, 10% of all tourists arriving on the island would hop on a cruise, today that figure has dwindled to just 1%.
The DPM sees cruises as a way of fading out the seasonality of Cyprus as a tourist destination, as tour operators such as TUI have scheduled cruises for the coming winter season.
Acknowledging that the cruise industry is far from reaching its true potential, the DPM has targeted cruise holidays in its national strategy for developing the country’s tourism product.
“Cruise tourism is constantly expanding, and Cyprus can benefit from this trend to establish itself as a quality cruise destination in the Eastern Mediterranean, either as a station or as a home port,” notes Moustras.
He said the ministry is working closely with other stakeholders in tourism such as tour operators and DPWorld Limassol, the port manager.
Stressing the importance of all stakeholders pulling together to improve the cruise sector, DPWorld Limassol CEO Charles Meaby, said: “all our stakeholders and partners need to invest in improving and modernising the reliability and quality of their offerings and services”.
“Working in partnership is a key strand of engagement for DP World Limassol, as we want all the tourism stakeholders and the economy to feel the positive knock-on effects this opportunity brings to Cyprus”.
He noted that Limassol port could become a regional cruise centre as it can be the first port of call for cruise lines that transit the Suez Canal, while the excellent location of the passenger terminal offers easy access to Larnaca and Paphos airports.
“Furthermore, the inauguration of the New Passenger Terminal at Limassol port was undoubtedly a highlight for the Cypriot tourism sector, since Limassol port can accommodate the largest operating cruise vessels worldwide and provide transit-day call and turnaround-home porting services,” said Meaby.
He said DP World Limassol is undertaking targeted campaigns, reaching international companies from the cruise sector to inform them with regards to the services of Limassol port, aiming to convince them to include Cyprus in their itineraries.
Government should do more
However, a number of local stakeholders are not content with efforts being made to promote Cyprus cruises.
The Association of Cyprus Tourist Agents (ACTA) is one of the stakeholders who would like to see the state and others putting in more effort to facilitate the sector’s growth.
Vasilis Stamataris, president ACTA, told the Financial Mirror that he expects the state to do more to support the cruise sector which is going through a rough time.
He said that the government could help by lowering direct and indirect taxes related to tour operations.
“More importantly, the DPM should be using its marketing budget more wisely, making targeted campaigns,” said Stamataris.
He was also critical of a recent government decision slashing the deputy ministry’s advertising budget.
He added that although Cyprus’ geographical position allows easy access to the ports of Lebanon, Israel and Egypt, high insurance costs demanded, on the pretext that they operate in a high-risk region, are burdening the sector.
Salamis Cruise Lines, who for a number of years was the only operator with cruises using Cyprus as a home base, feels that the state has not done enough to promote cruises departing the island or using it as a stopover.
Kikis Vassiliou, Salamis CEO, feels that the state is not doing its best to encourage local cruise operators to get involved or increase their presence in the market, seeing as Cyprus is a gateway to three continents.
“The costs of running cruises in Cyprus is high. Limassol Port has high tariffs, which have increased over the past few years, while insurance fees for vessels sailing regional waters are extremely high.
The state and other stakeholders need to take these factors into consideration if we truly want to see the cruise industry take off in Cyprus, offering alternatives for local and foreign holidaymakers,” Vassiliou told the Financial Mirror.
Source: Financial Mirror