The pioneers of the Greek cruise industry

Since 1954 when the Greek Organization launched the first Aegean cruises with Tassos Potamianos’s Epirotiki Lines, the industry has known days of glory as well as decline. During the 1950s, the Typaldos brothers also entered the fray. The first cruise ships were the Semiramis and the Aegaion, soon followed by the Kanaris, Miaoulis and Agamemnon, provided by the Italians as part of war reparations. At that time, the port of Piraeus was the ideal point of departure for cruise ships calling at the Greek islands, as well as for voyages to Asia and Africa. It was a tourism hub for the eastern Mediterranean and among the most popular destinations for holidaymakers. The success enjoyed by the two pioneers in the sector soon attracted other business barons, such as the Kioseoglou shipowners, whose Sun Line, in collaboration with the Marriott group, attracted a large number of upmarket American tourists. The Kavounidis brothers, after a period of growth, withdrew from the cruise business during the 1970s, after the second generation’s management proved unsuccessful. The end of the 1960s also saw the withdrawal of the Typaldos brothers as a result of pressure from banks. During the 1960s and 70s, Greek cruise lines expanded into cultural tours of the eastern Mediterranean, even venturing as far off as Alaska, the Baltic Sea and the Norwegian fjords, the Amazon and Orinoco rivers and Patagonia. In 1963, Chandris Lines began operations with voyages to Australia on the Ellinis, Australis and Patris, which early on took migrants out to the Antipodes. Antonis Chandris’s associate Tassos Stylianopoulos and his Navigator firm were decisive in this group’s success. Antonis’s brother Michalis was also active in the sector. In 1997, the Chandris group sold its ships, abandoning the cruise sector. Meanwhile in the 1980s, Pericles Panagopoulos made his appearance in the cruise business and later expanded into coastal shipping. The mid-1980s saw a collaboration between the Potamianos and Kioseoglou groups, one that was to last for many years until the Cypriot-owned Louis group bought a share in it, leading to the withdrawal of Kioseoglou. This collaboration, under the ROC line did not last long, however, and when it was dissolved it left Greece unrepresented in the world cruise market. A few years ago, the Louis group reappeared with 13 cruise ships, six of them bearing the Greek flag. Last year, Andreas Potamianos founded the Monarch line in cooperation with the Kollakis Shipping Group. A new player in the Greek cruise market this year is the Haji-Ioannou group, which is bringing its easyCruises to the Aegean. These days cruise ships are controlled by American business colossi that have bought out the largest European lines. Royal Caribbean and Carnival control the biggest share of the world market, including cruises in Greek waters. Nevertheless, the cabotage system against ships flying flags of non-European Union countries has raised obstacles for these firms in Greece. EU member states such as Spain, Italy and Portugal, on the other hand, have become leaders in the field worldwide. Royal Caribbean is represented in Greece by Navigator, which has continued to be active in the sector after the withdrawal of the Chandris group. This year Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, which it controls, have scheduled about 250 calls to Greek ports, bringing in some 200,000 tourists, most of them Americans. Carnival will also be carrying thousands of American tourists, while Princess Cruises has scheduled the launch of two of the largest of all cruise ships in Santorini in mid-May. American-owned firms have already declared an interest in investing in Greece on the condition that they will be able to function outside protected status. If Greece wants to be an international hub for cruise lines in the eastern Mediterranean, it will have to rise to the challenges posed by the world travel market. The cruise sector earned 32.4 billion dollars for the US economy in 2005, creating over 330,000 jobs and paying American citizens 13.5 billion dollars in wages. The consumption of US goods and services by cruise lines totaled 16.2 billion dollars. Direct expenditure by these firms supported almost 143,000 jobs and 5.2 billion dollars in wages. By inviting foreign-owned ships to set up their hubs in Greece, Greeks would to a certain extent be able to provide those goods and services, with both direct and indirect benefits for the Greek economy.

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