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  • Writer's pictureNikos Doukas

Maria Deligianni: Putting Cruising in the Eastern Med into perspective

The Mediterranean Sea traditionally remains the second most popular cruise destination market globally after the Caribbean, Bahamas, and Bermuda.

Maria Deligianni, National Director, Eastern Mediterranean  Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA)
Maria Deligianni, National Director, Eastern Mediterranean Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA)

The Western and central Med includes well-established destinations with Barcelona and Civitavecchia being the two most visited ports in the region and ranking among the top ten globally.

The Eastern Med is considered by the cruise lines as a destination market with a potential yet to be unlocked. Comprised of Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Turkey, the Eastern Med basin is ideal for cruise exploration: a region with a vast range of countries, culturally diverse, bringing together three different continents.

Several ports in the region are making considerable investments to increase cruise traffic, including Piraeus, Heraklion, Thessaloniki, Galata, Limassol, Haifa, and Alexandria that are building new cruise terminals or investing in new environmental technologies to provide incentives as the cruise industry continues to reduce emissions.

CLIA, cruise sector

The Eastern Mediterranean is though vulnerable to geopolitical tensions. Like a domino effect, tensions in one country can impact the whole region. We saw this back in 2016 when instability in Turkey affected cruising in Greece. And we see this now in the Middle East with the ongoing conflict of the Israeli – Hamas war. Cruise operators place their first priority on the safety of passengers and crew, and are adjusting itineraries as needed in their interest in the Eastern Med and the Red Sea.

However, the perception of the passenger is also important. It is not enough for a country to be safe, but it needs to be perceived as safe as well. How long will this last and to what degree will the region be affected from the cruise perspective is largely unknown, and our thoughts are with all who are impacted by the attacks. While itineraries to Israel are currently on hold, decisions on Egypt and Turkey vary. Greece and Cyprus not only have remained intact on short and long term but have seen an increase in cruise ship calls.

There is a growth trend for the development of the cruise sector globally.

CLIA data, percentage of cruise passengers traveling to major destinations 2022

Prior to the global health crisis, in 2019, almost 30 million passengers were sailing worldwide annually. Demonstrating the strength and resilience of the sector, cruise tourism is forecast to reach 106% of 2019 levels in 2023—with 31.5 million passengers sailing—and grow to nearly 40

million passengers in 2027. This compares to the UNWTO forecast that international tourist arrivals in 2023 will be 80% to 95% of 2019 levels.

CLIA | seafarers in the cruise industry

We welcome the responsible growth of cruise, which supports more than a million jobs throughout the world, of which hundreds of thousands are in Europe. Those who work in the cruise industry take great care to respect the communities cruise ships visit and acknowledge this growth may require adjustments in itineraries, port operations, improved destination management practices, and collaboration to maintain optimal experiences for communities and visitors.

This includes management of ship arrivals and departures and the opening of new cruise tourist destinations, which the Eastern Med has many opportunities to offer.

At the same time, the decarbonization of our sector remains a priority. CLIA member cruise lines are committed to pursuing net zero carbon cruising by 2050. During the next five years we expect CLIA cruise line members will introduce 44 new ships to the global fleet, representing an investment of more than $40 billion.

With the introduction of these news ships, we see enhanced efficiency as cruise lines continue to invest in the latest environmental technologies, the adoption of circular economy principles, and an increasing number of vessels using or able to incorporate alternative fuels once available. Decarbonization though does not depend entirely on the cruise lines alone. It requires the cooperation of ports and governments to make alternative fuels available at scale, as well as the development of infrastructure for the provision of shoreside electricity.

Set against this backdrop, the future of the cruise sector is bright. It is a responsible holiday travel choice, and growth is being driven by the younger generations (the average age is now 46,5 years old and getting younger). In addition, cruise is often the only holiday travel option for travelers with limited mobility, and remains the only way to discover remote places.

What is our vision for 2024? Our vision is for the cruise industry to continue to chart the future of sustainable cruise travel and to inspire lifelong cruisers and generations of new-to-cruise travelers to sail responsibly—one of the many reasons we believe cruise is the best way to see the world.


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