In an exclusive interview with The Shipping Herald, Heraklion Port Authority President and Managing Director, John Bras, discusses the present and future of the port as a gateway to one of the Mediterraneanâ€™s most popular and exciting tourist destinations. The Port Authorityâ€™s initiatives and strategy are touched upon with regards to the introduction of new products in the cruise sector, attracting further investment and raising competitiveness.
Q: What plans are there for the introduction of new products in the cruise sector?
As a Port Authority President and Managing Director, my role is to react effectively to cruise industry trends and actions once they have been announced. We of course welcome any new products and cruise brands that may appear in the horizon and try to attract them, but we are not in this business from an angle that allows insight into the cruise industryâ€™s entrepreneurial plans, unless we are approached as part of that process.
I can only give you a theoretical reply and from my understanding, in the current environment independent start-up cruise lines are something of a rarity. This is because the main industry leaders command daunting economies of scale with their large fleets, plus they are strong in almost all market segments with the various specialized brands that they control. This does not mean that new entrants will not appear when there is a viable niche for them to target, but it is a high risk and capital intensive venture and most frequently stall during the early planning stage.
In my opinion the timing is excellent for a premium quality brand based here in the East Mediterranean, particularly for shorter duration cruises that specialize in this region. We would welcome and support such a development, both as a transit port and an efficient turnaround location within the destination.
Airport Cruise Corner
Q: What is the Port’s strategy looking forward? How will it become more competitive in the Mediterranean region?
As a Port Authority we are determined to pursue further development of our turnaround services. Heraklion has already proved successful in this respect and in the last couple of years that we have managed to re-attract cruise lines as a turnaround port. In the near future Heraklion will also have a new airport and this means a lot at a time when certain European brands are expected to gradually increase fly cruise deployments. By operating their cruises out of Heraklion â€“ with open jaw or circular itineraries â€“ they will be right at the heart of the destination. With todayâ€™s fuel costs, I really believe that we will see fewer itineraries involving a long positioning from a far away homeport to reach the intended destination. It may be convenient for their core market to embark and disembark close to home, but nowadays this is becoming an unfeasible luxury for many markets.
Q: What do you see as the port’s competitive advantage compared to others in the region?
As I mentioned, Heraklion is at the centre of the region offering access to many destination options within short distances. This allows for the design of low fuel consumption itineraries that can easily include some of the Mediterraneanâ€™s most highly commercial ports of call. Port costs and services here are probably the most competitive in the region, plus Heraklion is the main gateway to one of the Mediterraneanâ€™s most popular and exciting tourist destinations. In Crete you will find highly developed tourism services, amazing natural beauty, endless historic sightseeing and a very unique and hospitable culture. You canâ€™t have more of a competitive edge than all this.
Heraklion Port Pedestrian Safe Zone
Q: What are your key strategies to attract investment and how do you promote these opportunities? What would you like potential investors to understand about the Heraklion Port?
To any investor, the perceived value of a port is not only about the strategic aspects of its location or its technical profile, but also its performance record as a business. My main effort here begins with a vision of a well balanced port that will optimize performance by capitalizing on all available capabilities and attributes. Certainly cruising is an important part of this vision and I have invested a great deal of energy and effort on this aspect of our business. We are already enjoying some promising results, but we still have some way to go before we meet the goals we set with regard to cruising. Of course, we have not neglected the other aspects of our business, such as the coastal ferry and cargo sectors, as they are also crucial to the portâ€™s bottom line and the fulfilment of its wider economic role. The best way to attract investors is to show them the tangible progress the port has achieved these last four years and in spite of the crisis, because that is the only convincing way to present the true potential of this port. In this respect, the Port Authority will persevere in its dynamic pursuit of ambitious goals and to maintain the same rate of progress, so that perceived value will continue to ascend. All the rest with regard to investors is a matter of timing and circumstances beyond anyoneâ€™s control.
Q: In terms of infrastructure and facilities at Heraklion, what is the current state of the Port and what plans are there for further investment and development?
Making the best of existing infrastructure, the Port Authority remodeled the interior of its existing Passenger Terminal, making it markedly more efficient. To further extend cruise turnaround capability, the Port Authority will be installing a special tent structure on its Pier IV. This will be a permanent fixture, fully air-conditioned and laid out to provide all necessary embarkation/disembarkation services smoothly and efficiently). (Note: Pier IV is 289 meters in length with 14.2 m depth).
In addition, the Port has worked hard toward improving service efficiency and introducing more attractive cruise focused features. To further increase its effectiveness as a turnaround port, the Port Authority began a close cooperation with Heraklionâ€™s Nikos Kazantzakis Airport that proved crucial in dealing with a variety of issues regarding turnaround cruise traffic.
Thanks to the Port Authorityâ€™s initiatives and advice, the airport managed to implement expedient solutions that significantly improved cruise passenger & luggage handling in Heraklion. Always at the forefront, Heraklion Port Authority initiated close synergies with other local authorities and managed to promote a cruise friendly and passenger orientated mentality beyond the portâ€™s boundaries, to the entire destination. Among the many recent improvements and new service features, some were developed solely by the port, while others are the result of close cooperation with the City.
When four years ago the Port Authority was describing to us its goal to upgrade in as many possible ways quality experience, service efficiency, comfort and ultimately, passenger satisfaction, we said â€œlet us seeâ€. Four years later, as cruise operators we are impressed with the amount that was achieved in what is still a very ambitious ongoing effort. Apart from basic operational improvements to facilitate handling and procedures within the port which were implemented almost immediately, new technologies have been applied to facilitate cruise passenger access to information on local culture, history and important tourist highlights (i.e. special cell phone apps, interactive website linked signage, etc).
A series of simpler but equally useful solutions were also implemented, such as a yellow line on the road that guides passengers to the city center, well placed conventional signage, map displays, etc. What is particularly unusual is the amount of cruise focused creativity that we see in Heraklion in the form of special features within the Port and its vicinity, such as the Olive Tree project and the Herb Garden that allows visitors to touch and smell a variety of plants used in Cretan cuisine and traditional medicine.
The latest addition to be initiated is a customer experience enhancement program that named â€œCreative Creteâ€. This application provides a wealth of information on Cretan history and mythology, as well as a fun interactive game where passengers can freely participate in. Clearly, the Port Authorityâ€™s idea is to develop a relationship with its cruise visitors by making the experience of their interaction with the port interesting and gratifying in itself.
Heraklion Port Passenger Station
Q: Are there plans for the connection of the port with the city’s airport?
As the airport and the seaport of Heraklion are practically next to each other, a direct link would greatly simplify a multitude of operational aspects regarding turnaround operations. Certainly there is a discussion initiated by the Heraklion Port Authority, but it is a rather complex matter involving more than one government jurisdiction, legislative and planning issues, etc.
We could like to say that Greece is becoming more flexible bureaucratically, but this one may take a while to materialize. If it was easy, believe me it would have been done alreadyâ€¦ Anyway, there is also the question as to whether it would be worth it in the end, as a new international airport is on the cards at another location and the fate of the current one is unknown at this point. It should be noted however, that even with the present road connection the transfer time from the airport to the port and vice versa is minimal.
Heraklion Port Marina
Q: What is the current picture regarding safety/security and the implementation of ISPS?
Heraklion port is one of the safest in the Mediterranean Sea and this is not according to our own appraisal but to the confirmation of this fact we have received from the cruise lines using our port (totaling 19 in 2014). The port provides safe haven in all weather conditions for vessels sailing in the Sea of Crete and the Aegean and East Mediterranean seas in general.
Additionally, the port complies fully and operates completely in accordance with the safety requirements stipulated under the international ISPS Code, both for the safety of the vessel and that of the passengers and crew.
The compliance of the ISPS Code requirements pertains to the cruise berths, the transport equipment used for passengers within the port confines, inside the
Passenger Terminal/s and facilities used by the passengers and crew as well as in all areas where ship supplies and luggage are handled.
We would like to point out the Heraklion port implements a special procedure for all turnaround passenger luggage transferring to/from Heraklion airport on special charter flights. The procedure is carried out with the close co-operation of the Heraklion Harbor Masterâ€™s Office, the Civil Aviation Authority, the Airforce General Command, Customs Authorities, the airline handling company/s, the airport security company and of course the cruise line and its local shipping and ground handling agents.
More specifically, passengers who fly in to Heraklion airport to commence their cruise will leave their luggage with the ground handlers in the Arrivals Hall and will then see it again outside their stateroom after their embarkation. The whole procedure is undertaken by the ground handling and security companies with the luggage arriving from the airport to the port in accompanied sealed and secured trucks.
For passengers whose cruise ends in Heraklion the procedure is reversed implementing off-airport check-in from the previous evening and luggage is offloaded en masse and transferred direct to the airport for X-Ray control without the actual presence of the passengers. The passengers will see their luggage again on the luggage belt upon arrival at their destination airport.
This means that embarking/disembarking passengers in our port have a simple transfer from/to the airport which is a matter of just 15 minutes. Worry free, this gives them more time for leisure and a visit to the nearby downtown Heraklion.
In the three years that this procedure has been in effect there has been no instance of luggage loss or damage in a Heraklion cruise turnaround. In fact, thanks to the success of this system Heraklion Port Authority received the 2nd IPMA National Award from the Greek contingent of the International Project Management Association, in recognition of its innovative initiatives and high level security services.
Heraklion: A Top Cruise Destination â€“ A Modern, Ever Growing Port
The Heraklion Port Authority (HPA) is building a strong reputation for the city’s port as one of the most desirable cruise destinations in the Mediterranean. Numbers show that the policies of the HPA’s management are attracting more passengers while services offered are constantly being improved, making for a competitive and busy port.
The Shipping Herald takes an in depth look at the Port of Heraklion, presenting its features as well as its strategy for the future. Rich in maritime and cultural heritage, Heraklion is ideally situated to promote Greece as a tourist destination as well as attract greater traffic from cruise ships, ferry boats and luxury yachts to containerships and commercial shipping vessels.
The Port of Heraklion is a multi â€“ purpose port and ferry dock, offering coastal shipping, cruise and merchant shipping services while more than 100 professional fishing boats also use it on a regular basis.
Travellers can take ferries and boats from Heraklion to destinations including Santorini, Ios Island, Paros, Mykonos, and Rhodes. There are also several daily ferries to Piraeus, the port of Athens on mainland Greece.
The port also has a dock for private yachts as well as facilities for sporting events and entertainment. Heraklion offers high quality services and safety of the highest standard, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week due to the efforts of its skilled employees and management.
A total of 33 employees currently work for the Heraklion Port Authority (from 56 in 2010), including administrative staff, engineers, plumbers, electricians, vehicle technicians and machine operators.
On average a total of 2.15 million passengers move to/from the port (950.000 to the port, 900.000 from the port and 300.000 cruise passengers moved). August is considered a peak month with a 400 pct rise reported in comparison to winter months.
The port, however, is unique in that it has sees increased numbers of visitors up to October due to cruising. On average 200 cruise arrive at Heraklion per year along with 1.350 passenger ships and 260 commercial vessels.
The Heraklion Port Authority (HPA) provides high quality, competitive, cruise services while applying contemporary practices for the development of the cruise industry in Greece and special actions (projects) to improve the experience of visitors to the city of Heraklion.
Customer Experience Enhancement is at the top of the HPA’s strategy, with a view to offering professional and excellent service to every visiting cruise ship coupled by top class hospitality.
HPA actively participates in all major international cruise exhibitions to promote Crete as a destination.
On piers II, III and IV of the port up to five cruise ships can be accommodated safely, in accordance with the ISPS Code. More than 10.000 passengers and crew members can be served in a day at the port’s passenger terminal. There are also specially organized and designated areas for tour buses (including hop on-hop off buses) and the safe unloading of passengers.
Through a series of policies and actions, the Port Authority assures visitors enjoy high levels of convenience extending from the port area and the passenger terminal to the center of the city. Amongst innovations introduced by HPA is the Heraklion Guide App for smart phones which provides information on history, culture, attractions and shopping in Heraklion.
On piers III and IV there are facilities, equipment and personnel that can serve the movement of any general or bulk cargo as well as containers. Outdoor storage space for the movement and safe storage of containers is also available along with indoor storage for packed cargo (pallets, cartons, boxes, packages, baggage and more).
Customs Service is situated within the port area allowing for the movement and storage of imported/exported goods.
At the west side of the port (â€œKouleâ€ pier) private yachts of up to 20 meters long are moored while larger vessels use the east part of the pier known as â€œsmall Kouleâ€).
Lifting and boat launch, parking, storage and repairs are also conducted at the Pier V.
The port of Heraklion has all the necessary infrastructure for it to be considered an important port of departure & transit cruise. The port’s infrastructure can accommodate safely, up to 5 or 6 cruise ships of various sizes, of which 3 in specially designated areas exclusively for use by the port’s Department of cruise.
The passenger terminal includes areas both to control passengers-luggage-passports, as well as include shopping facilities, luggage storage, restaurant services, telephone and internet services, etc.
All areas of the port were recently renovated and even more functions were added for extra passenger comfort, while the capacity of transit and home porting passengers was also raised with the design of a special area for them.
New specially organized designated parking areas were also created.
In terms of technology and information systems, besides wireless Internet services being offered within the port, a series of important actions were recently taken bringing the port up to date with the latest innovations.
Interactive panels with QR Stamps were installed (connected with the Port Authority website), providing information on monuments, as well as the Cretan olive tree planted in a special place in the port as part of project “olive”, an initiative to promote the particular product.
A free mobile application (for android & iOS) provides information on catering services, entertainment, shopping, etc., offered by the city and its businesses. ‘City Info on Wheels’, is also in operation, a ‘mobile’ information hub, that uses Segway. Furthermore, project” Follow the Yellow Line” leads visitors from the port to the city, offering special discounts to cruisers with the collaboration of the Traders Association of Heraklion.
The Heraklion Port Authority has proved very successful at providing an experience of the highest standards to tourists and visitors through actions that have made Heraklion competitive as a cruise port. Upgraded and safe facilities, fair pricing policy and cooperation with the municipality as well as other players in the tourism and retail sectors have contributed to this.
Particularly, the high level of cooperation amongst the Port Authority and Municipal, District and Chamber of Commerce officials have added value to the services offered by the port in terms of day to day management as well introducing modern technology and alternative media in the promotion of historic and cultural monuments and the support of local entrepreneurship.
In order to maximize economic benefits from the development of cruise tourism, the Port Authority is taking actions to ensure Greek products are introduced to major logistics firms which supply ships at the country’s homeports (such as Piraeus, Corfu, Rhodes) including Heraklion.
The Port has also shown important initiative through the implementation of its â€œFly-Stay & Cruiseâ€ strategy in collaboration with Louis Cruises and TEZ Tour which is aimed at unlocking new markets such as those of Russia, the wider Black Sea and Israel.
Developments in the Chinese market are also followed closely as the Heraklion Port Authority aims to attract more visitors with the amount of Chinese tourists opting for a cruise package expected to rise sharply in the next 2-3 years.
Furthermore, the Heraklion Port Authority is working closely with the city’s airport â€œNikos Kazantzakisâ€ in order to build the first cruise terminal on airport in Greece, a new hall of 800+520 sq. meters.
In 2010 â€œCruises News Media Groupâ€ awarded Heraklion Port Authority, together with the Port funds of Santorini, Mykonos and Kos, first prize (Excellence) as best Mediterranean destination for 2010. The award was based on 12,000 questionnaires completed by cruise passengers who had visited the port along with others, including the aforementioned.
In 2012 the Heraklion Port Authority took second prize in the â€œExcellence in Works and Project Managementâ€ Competition of the International Project Management Association for its â€œHeraklion Home Port +â€ Project. The award ceremony took place during the 26th World Congress of the International Association of Project Management, held October 29-31, 2012 in Hersonissos Crete.
Also in 2012, the Heraklion Port Authority came 2nd in the Port of the Year Awards. The â€œSeatrade Insider Cruise Awardsâ€ are part of the Seatrade Med International Exhibition which took place in Marseille 27-29/11. The three ports selected as finalists along with Heraklion Port was the harbor of New York (NY Cruise port, USA) and the port of Cartagena, Spain.
The Heraklion Port was amongst the three finalists from a list of 70 ports, mainly due to innovations it implemented in 2012 and the Home Port process it runs in cooperation with Europe’s largest cruise company, Costa Crociere and the Heraklion Airport â€œNikos Kazantzakisâ€. Most impressive is the world record time it set in the transportation of passengers from the time of landing at the Heraklion airport as they were taken to their ship within 15 minutes while all security procedures were adhered to.