Greece crisis ‘thwarts’ Turkish cruise growth

Greece crisis ‘thwarts’ Turkish cruise growth

Greece crisis ‘thwarts’ Turkish cruise growth

The number of cruise tourists coming to Turkey soared by 285 percent over the past 10 years, but the sector faces risk of losing pace this year, sector representatives warn. AA photo

The Turkish cruise sector’s thriving growth is being thwarted by problems in the ports of neighboring Greece, according to a report by the country’s top tourism sector body, which predicts that the sector’s growth rate will slow to around 2 percent.

The Turkey Cruise Tourism Report, unveiled by the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TÜRSAB), said the growth rate of cruise ship tourism to Turkey, which has been at least 10 percent for the past 10 years, is expected to slow to around 2 to 3 percent in 2014.

The biggest reason behind the expected stagnation in the sector is the economic crisis in Greece, which has prompted strikes at Port of Piraeus, where around 40 percent of the cruise ships coming to Turkey sail from, according to the report.

“Global cruise companies have started to react to the strikes in Piraeus. The companies’ shifting of their 2014 program, and even their 2015 and 2016 programs, to the West Mediterranean [from the East] is an obstacle in front of growth in Turkey,” the report read.

The sector’s growth in Turkey almost doubled global growth in the past 10 years as Turkey ascended as a favored destination for global cruise companies.

Turkish ports, which hosted only 581,000 cruise passengers in 2003, hosted 2.2 million in 2013, marking a rise significantly higher than the global average.

Need for new ports

Quoted in the report, TÜRSAB Chairman Başaran Ulusoy said Turkey should build its own developed ports to bypass the negative impact from Greece and become the “initial departure point” for cruise tours.

“We need new ports for Istanbul, İzmir, Kuşadası and Istanbul. Yenikapı, which has been turned into Istanbul’s meeting hub, should take the lead in this,” Ulusoy said in the report.

The report also suggests that Turkey should establish new ports in order to ease the dependency on Greece and attract cruise companies. Such a strategy would also challenge the dominancy of the top three ports, Istanbul, Kuşadası and İzmir, which currently undertake three quarters of all cruise tourism in Turkey.

However, speaking to Anadolu Agency, a prominent sector representative warned against the challenges facing Turkey in the sector, citing tension in Ukraine and Syria as stumbling blocks for the efficient use of Turkish ports in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.

“Cruise companies are looking for new destinations and our region has the climate and beauty to host tourists year round. However, the wars in Syria and Ukraine are adversely affecting us,” said Ekrem Demirtaş, the head of the Turkey Cruise Platform.

“For example, although our ports in Antalya, Alanya and Mersin are very convenient for cruise tourism, there is war going on at the ports that could complement this route,” he said, adding that hopes of creating a Black Sea cruise trail had been also dashed by the crisis in Ukraine.

The head of one of the Turkey’s leading cruise companies, Port Akdeniz CEO Özgür Sert, told Anadolu Agency that his company had given up hopes of raising its passenger numbers and would be content with not contracting for the time being.

“We ended last year with 170,000 passengers. This year’s season has only just opened but the picture is not bright. Our previous target was to reach 190,000, but with the current picture I hope we can preserve the level of 2013,” Sert said.