Cruise News UK sits down with the head of Louis Cruises UK and Ireland to discuss the fractured relationship with the eurozone, changes in itinerary and how the closure of its UK office has affected how agents make bookings.
1. How has the ongoing eurozone publicity affected your cruise business from the UK over the past 12 months?
Although the demonstrations in Athens slowed down new bookings to an extent, overall the business from the UK was only very slightly affected. In fact, once the new government was elected and sworn into office, bookings went up. I believe people realise that cruising to the Greek islands has nothing to do with the demonstrations in the centre of Athens. Safety was never an issue in Greece and it will never be one. The comments we receive from British passengers sailing with us highlight the genuine and warm hearted hospitality they experience, both on board and at our destinations.
2. Since the recent elections in Greece have you seen a change in interest for your product from the UK?
There was an increase in bookings because of the political stabilisation in Greece. However, irrespective of the financial crisis the country and eurozone in general are faced with, it has to be said that Greece has never and will never have a crisis of hospitality. It is one of the most stunning destinations for holidays and given its unique archipelagos of islands, each with its own charm and sites of interest, it is a top cruising destination.
3. You have recently had some deployment changes. During this current season which ships are deployed on the 3, 4 & 7-day cruises?
We have welcomed the MV Louis Olympia to our fleet this year for three and four night cruises to the Greek islands and Turkey from Piraeus or Kusadasi. With calls at the best ports in the Aegean such as the cosmopolitan island of Mykonos; Patmos, where the book of the Apocalypse was written; the Ancient Kingdom of Ephesus in Kusadasi; and Santorini, the ‘balcony’ to breathtaking views. We will also be including Medieval Rhodes and Minoan Crete in the 4-day itinerary. MV Louis Cristal, another gem in the Louis Cruises fleet, sails from Lavrion, Athens, close to the capital’s main airport or Istanbul to Izmir, Patmos, Mykonos, Rhodes, Crete and the Aegean’s most stunning sunset in Santorini. From the port of Limassol, our MV Orient Queen offers unique sailings to islands other cruise lines don’t call at, such as Paros, Naxos, Symi, Lesbos, Andros, Kos, Kalymnos and Kastellorizo as well as other ports like Thessaloniki and Kalamata in Greece; and Istanbul, Izmir, Kusadasi and Marmaris in Turkey. With calls to unique destinations including Venice, Dubrovnik and Split and itineraries ranging from three to 10-days, UK passengers wishing to cruise from Cyprus are bound to enjoy an unforgettable cruise.
4. What are the main attributes that differentiate Louis Cruises from other cruise lines?
What distinguishes us from other cruise lines is that we don’t just cruise in the Aegean and the Sea of Marmara but welcome guests to our home waters. From the moment a passenger boards a Louis Cruises vessel they live a Hellenic Experience. The cuisine, the hospitality Greeks are renowned for, the music and entertainment all form part of the experience. We strive to exceed expectations and make them ambassadors of Hellenic cruising.
5. You have recently closed your London office. How do UK agents continue to make Louis Cruise bookings?
We live in the technology era where the old fashioned office is no longer a necessity. We now have multilingual call centres, stuffed with experienced colleagues who can guide our prospective passengers and offer expert advice. We are also upgrading our website which is already being used by both professionals and clients. So we are simply a call or click away – and I am very much still here to offer any service our business partners require.
6. You operate smaller, older ships. What continues to make these ships attractive to UK consumers?
Actually, it was through our efforts and strategic cooperation with the leading UK tour operators that cruising was introduced to the wider public of the UK and Europe, something that led to our executive chairman Costakis Loizou being awarded the prestigious European Pioneer Award by the International Society of Hospitality Consultants. We do not offer the mega ship experience that most cruise operators go for nowadays. For us, the ports of call, not the ship, remain the destination. While we offer an excellent service, cuisine and all the amenities expected on a cruise ship, we are destination oriented and no one knows our region as well as we do. We call at destinations that the larger ships are unable to and, as of next year, we are enriching our itineraries with islands like Chios, renowned for its mastic trees that grow nowhere else in the world, impressive monasteries, neoclassical Captain houses and medieval fortified villages.
7. Are any expansions to your fleet on the horizon?
This past year was a landmark for Louis Cruises since the strategic decision to focus operations in home waters was implemented. We decided to focus on the competitive advantage and the local know-how of the region. At the same time, we have bid farewell to some of the older ladies in the Louis Cruises fleet such as the historic SS Emerald, Sapphire, Aquamarine and previously the Serenade and Princesa Marissa. Looking to the future, we will continue the renewal of the fleet and with 77 years of history in tourism, and 26 in international cruising, Louis will continue to offer great value for money and genuine hospitality to the hundreds of thousands of guests we welcome every year aboard the five cruise ships and 19 four and five-star hotels we maintain in the Greek islands and resorts of Cyprus.