These are some of the ideas that emerged from this morning’s Seatrade Cruise Med industry keynote sponsored by Cruise Saudi and presented in partnership with Cruise Lines International Association, focussing on ‘Steering Change Together.’

‘We need to fight lies… with the truth’

MSC Cruises has been investing in improving its green credentials for the last 10 years, according to CEO Gianni Onorato, but actors with ulterior motives such as politicians are peddling mistruths which need to be tackled. 

‘There are campaigns in certain local communities on false data… a cruise industry that is not what it is,’ Onorato said. ‘There are lies going around. We need to fight these people and these lies with the truth. The truth is, we are investing, we are ahead of many sectors in the shipping industry… We need to pass on this message together.’

Costa Cruises President Mario Zanetti agreed facts need to counter some public misconceptions and negative influence: ‘It’s crucial cruise lines are channelling the message through [Cruise Lines International Association] but also so that others will speak for us.’ He said passengers should not be ‘underestimated’ for aiding the effort when ‘they’re in a position to vouch for what we really do.’

A danger of Mediterranean losing prominence

The comments came as Marie-Caroline Laurent, director general, CLIA Europe revealed more than €45b had been invested in Europe related to sustainability, saying the cruise industry should not be ‘discriminated against’ compared to other areas of shipping. At the same time, she said, ‘Maritime can no longer hide’ when it comes to sustainability, as there comes ‘increased pressure and increased drive on reducing emissions… it’s a really good thing, we are ahead of the game.’

Her priorities are ‘Making sure we can drive the regulatory process to deliver on promises and the commitments we have made… in the green transition. And that we convey our message to the wider public.’

At the same time, she expressed there was a danger of the Mediterranean losing its position as the second most popular cruise destination in the world if the biases that exist are not addressed: ‘We need to stop talking to each other about how great we are and start talking to others about how great we are…. I want to leave you with that call for action. We have to get out of our comfort zones to talk to politicians and local communities.’

Destinations and shore excursions

Zanetti revealed Costa will ‘renew and enlarge our portfolio of land experiences and create partnerships with local associations so authenticity of local cultures can really be at the centre,’ focussing on ‘recovery based on quality.’

Celestyal Cruises’ CEO Chris Theophilides, however, is instead ‘working on developing more destinations’ as he observed there was a ‘big focus on a very small number of destinations.’ Up to two years ago, Piraeus and Corfu were used for turnarounds for the cruise line, which is fixed mainly on Greece. But, ‘we went ahead with it [the decision] in 2021 to open up a secondary homeport in the wider Athens area and that alleviated congestion and problems and we’ve taken the third step this year and are adding Thessaloniki.’

He continued, ‘We have to work with the local port authority, local municipality, Ministry of Tourism and the Greek National Tourism Organisation and we are working with private concessions of the airport and suddenly it’s a whole ecosystem of developing new ports.’

Figen Ayan, president, MedCruise said there are ports in the association bringing millions of passengers a year while others hosted ‘just 10,000 per year,’ indicating there’s a port to suit all cruise lines. Half-year statistics for the region show cruise calls are ‘a little bit above’ what they were during the same period in 2019.’

Moderator Mary Bond, group director, Seatrade Cruise indicated potential for the Mediterranean to develop into even more of a full-year cruise destination.

The Mediterranean saw only two months of paused operations amid the pandemic with Ayan describing the region as ‘the wizards of the industry.’ She pointed to its history, archaeology and richness of culture as being prime examples for why the Med is ideal for cruises.

Carbon Intensity Indicator

Due to come into force next year, the CII is an operational index that all ships need to fulfil. The current formula for measuring it focuses heavily on distance travelled, which is disadvantageous for cruise ships which spend more time in ports and perform shorter voyages. In view of that fact, Theophilides continued, ‘…what is going to be shaping itinerary planning is the upcoming emissions regulations, which impact itineraries directly, and we will see many operators rethinking the way they craft their itineraries.’

Onorato expressed the wish that the current CII calculation for cruise ships be reviewed: ‘We will really be obliged to have less ports and keep the ship longer in ports. It’s a nonsense,’ he stated.

Positive signs for 2023

‘In 2021 we started [operations] back up again successfully and in 2022 we consolidated the recovery, the results have been very encouraging,’ Zanetti said, adding, ‘hopefully [this] will pave the way for 2023.’

In reference to the Eastern Mediterranean, Theophilides remarked, ‘The important thing is the momentum continued to build up in the right direction. By and large, we have had a very good summer… The Eastern Med has had a fantastic year, not only Greece but the wider Eastern Med basin.’

‘From summer 2022, we’ve seen the scenario change,’ said Onorato.’It’s a very resilient industry, the value for money is incomparable with any other industry. We’ve had a very good response in Europe.’