Q. 2013 was a good year for the company. Looking forward, what are the companyâ€™s plans for 2014?
This year has indeed been a good year, both for tourism in Greece and for Louis Cruises. The return of Greece to stability and safety put the country back on the world tourism map, and this certainly helped Louis Cruises, which is the only home porting cruise operator in the country. We are very pleased with our results for 2013: we surpassed our target for total number of passengers, and our income for the year exceeded our 2012 income by approximately 25%.
Looking ahead to 2014, Iâ€™d like to announce that Louis Cruises has rebranded under the invitation, â€œSay Kalimera to the Real Greek Experience,â€ which, again, as the only home porting cruise operator in Greece, we believe accurately and enthusiastically reflects what we offer our passengers. We are a Greek cruise line, and we provide our passengers with a true Greek experience at sea, in terms of our stellar hospitality, our delicious Greek cuisine and our onboard activities, which include history lectures, Greek language lessons, Greek dancing classes and Greek music and entertainment evenings in our night clubs; onshore, our Shore Excursion team takes our passengers on incredible half-day trips to legendary places like the Palace at Knossos, the Old City of Rhodes, and the hilltop village of Oia in Santorini, just to name a few. Our product consistently exceeds the expectations of visitors to the Eastern Mediterranean, and we continue to gain traction with this segment of the tourism market; initial indications from our key travel partners suggest we will see a 15 % increase in the number of guests we host on our cruise ships in 2014. Louis Cruisesâ€™ objective is to be a “worthy ambassador” of Greek hospitality and culture, to provide cruise lovers the world over with a truly authentic experience in our home waters, the Eastern Mediterranean.
Within the framework of our rebranding, we will significantly expand our exposure to our key markets in Europe, Latin America and North America. Meanwhile, as we have already announced, this coming winter the Louis Cristal will be deployed for spectacular cruises around Cuba. These cruises will give her passengers the opportunity of a lifetime, a chance to explore the genuine, unspoiled beauty of a destination almost untouched by time.
Once she completes her programme in Cuba, the Louis Cristal will return to our waters for the 2014 summer season, where she will sail our incredible â€œIdyllic Aegeanâ€ itinerary, which includes eight of our fabulous new destinations: Bodrum, Cesme, Chios, Ios, Kos, Milos, Symi and Syros. These harbors canâ€™t accommodate megaships because their infrastructure isnâ€™t designed for such large vessels, but the Louis Cristal is a smaller ship and the ideal size for bringing our passengers to these Aegean gems.
In tandem with the Louis Cristal, the Louis Olympia will be deployed from Piraeus on our classic three and four-day itineraries. These comfortable, cozy ships will proudly represent the best of Hellenic cruising in 2014, serving as â€œGreek villages at seaâ€, providing our passengers with an authentic, genuine experience, one that immerses them in the cuisine, culture, history and stunning geography of our exquisite homeland.
Q. What incentives is Louis Cruises offering to entice tourists to cruise in the southeast Mediterranean?
The best incentive is simple â€“ itâ€™s what we offer, a unique experience in a value for money package. Louis Cruises offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy a vacation in Greece and Turkey that combines the best of terrestrial tourism and cruising. This is a unique proposition, one few other companies can offer, and certainly one few other regions make possible, thanks to our incredible archeological and religious sites, our medieval cities, our delicious cuisine and the breathtaking topography of so many of the Greek islands. We deliver it all at fantastic prices, and with the kind of service our passengers remember.
Even more than offering incentives, what we need to do now is educate a vast number of the worldâ€™s travellers, particularly here in Greece and in Turkey, where most people arenâ€™t aware of the advantages of our cruises and what a value proposition we offer. Many of them donâ€™t understand we offer all-inclusive holiday packages that give you: outstanding accommodation; three fresh, delicious meals every day; breathtaking excursions; non-stop onboard activities, all for one reasonable price. Everything is included, which means your cruise is carefree. We take care of you, with true Greek hospitality, from stem to stern, so you can enjoy a once in a lifetime vacation. This is the message we need to communicate in the Greek and Turkish markets.
Again, our incentive is our product. The â€œKalimeraâ€ rebranding isnâ€™t just something we are using to promote Louis Cruises: itâ€™s now part of our mission, part of what we do, the expression of our Hellenic rootsâ€¦our identity. â€œKalimeraâ€ means good in every sense of the word â€“ quality, satisfaction, happiness. This is what we now live by. We have worked with our entire staff, our chefs, our Shore Excursion team, our Cruise Directors and our housekeepers, so they understand that everything they do is part of our rebranding, that it is up to them to make sure our passengers â€œliveâ€ kalimera. We have great people, onboard and onshore, and theyâ€™ve taken our rebranding and its true meaning to heart. The comments and feedback we continue to receive from our passengers have been overwhelmingly positive. Everyone has told us, in one way or another, that his or her cruise was an incredibly rich experience. We intend to make that experience even richer in 2014.
To grow market share in 2014 and beyond, we will continue to educate local populations throughout the region about our fantastic cruises. The best marketing campaigns, we believe, are those that teach customers something. So our marketing will explain why they should cruise with us. This is consistent with what happens on our cruises, when our passengers learn about Greek cuisine (and how to cook it!), about Greek music and dancing, visit some of the worldâ€™s most fascinating and best-preserved archeological sitesâ€¦this â€œeducationâ€ is core to the quality of our product and to our Hellenic identity. We are confident that as we continue to bring our key messages to the global tourism marketplace, we will continue to attract an increasing number of â€œcruisersâ€ to our home waters.
Q. How do you expect the economic cruise packages you offer to attract travellers who arenâ€™t accustomed to taking their holidays on a cruise ship?
Cruising is the best way to take a vacation: itâ€™s the most affordable vacation available and an incredibly convenient way to travel, particularly if you want to see new destinations. For example, our shortest cruise is three days, but we stop at five islands: we make it so you can see multiple destinations with a minimum of preparation and without any hassles. Compare this to what it would cost you to see this many Greek islands, by ferry or by plane, and how much time it would take you to book your trip.
So a cruise itself is economical, but we also offer our passengers early booking discounts and cruise packages for everyoneâ€™s budget. We want everyone to know that the expensive cruise is a myth â€“ you can afford it. We believe our value for money cruise packages will continue to entice travellers to come â€œlive kalimeraâ€ with us.
Q. Even though it was a good year for tourism in Greece, what were the main problems the company faced?
Unfortunately, as we are currently the only Greek cruise operator sailing from Piraeus and Lavrion, we have to deal with a complex public sector and an unstable political and fiscal environment. Operating in Greece means we are often confronted with an unreliable financial, legal and political framework.
Another challenge we face is the lack of infrastructure and services for cruise passengers. What do I mean by this? One problem is flights. There is insufficient airlift to Greece from our major markets, particularly the USA and Latin America â€“ by comparison, there are eight flights daily from these areas to Turkey. Another is the slow improvement of land-based services â€“ we need to work with local museums and archeological sites to make sure our passengers have sufficient time to experience these treasures, given that their operating hours are sometimes out of sync with our itineraries. We also need to push for greater technical support and convenience at our ports of call.
We live and operate in the most beautiful and ideal part of the world for cruising â€“ this is where it was invented! We need to leverage the incredible advantages we have here while simultaneously rectifying our problems. This will make it possible for Greece to elevate its overall cruising product and claim the top position in the industry.
Q. Could Turkey be a source of fresh tourist flow for Louis?
Absolutely! Turkish people love Greece, especially the islands; they enjoy the cuisine and entertainment, and they are good spenders. Greece must find ways to facilitate travel for Turkish people by extending the simplified visa regime to more islands, and by reducing the cost of the visa to a token amount. Turkish people are now starting to discover the benefits of cruising, and we should do everything we can to make Greece and its islands their preferred destination. Weâ€™re right next door, and we have so much to offer â€“ it makes sense to position ourselves as the first choice for Turkish tourists looking to try cruising. We see Turkey as a tremendous market. The country is a big part of our plans.
Q. It is no secret that ships are facing issues coming to Greek ports. How can they be solved, and what is it that you ask from the Greek administration?
Itâ€™s a pity our country is home to all this unique, breathtaking beauty and incredible history, incredible competitive advantages, and we canâ€™t employ them to drive greater revenue for the national economy. Drilling down, as a cruise line, we need to see greater priority given to the cruise industry. We need terminal facilities that meet international standards, competitive tariffs and port charges, and world class safety and security apparatuses in place to protect passengers in the unlikely event of a seafaring accident.
I want to mention here that cruise ships are facing an issue of navigation priority in the port of Piraeus. Cruise ships are not permitted to sail into the port between 5:00 pm and 9:00 pm, as priority is given to coastal shipping vessels and COSCO container ships, which means Louis Cruises and some of the other leading cruise companies are incurring additional fuel costs. To address this issue, we have informed the authorities that we intend to examine the new cruise passenger station in Lavrion; we are already sailing to and from Lavrion, but we will research how to increase our operations there. We believe a greater exploitation of this harbor will be a win-win for our company and for Lavrion since, with minor changes to its master plan, the harbor at Lavrion can be transformed into a cruise hub for the Aegean.
Finally, the Greek state must create and implement a reliable and stable economic and legal framework if it wishes to attract investors and operators to the Hellenic cruise industry. Greece must also commit to substantial upgrades of its port facilities, so they meet international standards, and it must support the growth of industry segments, such as repairs and technical services and other home porting services, that will generate revenue for the state and create jobs.