According to a recent story in Seatrade Cruise News, TUI and Hapag-Lloyd intend on making Crete a new base of operations for late Spring and Summer 2021. TUI’s Mein Schiff 2 will redeploy to Heraklion in May, and other cruise lines may focus on Heraklion port as well. Is this yet another warning sign Crete and other islands are headed for a point of no return?
Last year TUI Cruises operated from Crete despite the ongoing pandemic. The cruise line said Heraklion had advantages as a turnround port including good infrastructure and a modern (yet relatively small) airport, as well as the flexibility of many service providers (desperation?).
A key positive here is that Heraklion International Airport provides direct flights to numerous European capitals, making it ideal for TUI and Hapag-Lloyd, which cater primarily to German-speaking travelers. But the problem some critics have is the diminished value for the local economy and merchants. Here’s a passage from a recent ABC article about cruise ships porting in Venice:
“The cruise ship model of tourism brings Venice a good deal of negative impacts in terms of crowding and pressure on fragile infrastructure. It also brings few positive economic impact as such visitors actually spend little money in the local economy.”
Heraklion and other Crete destinations are already considered “budget” destinations, and the restauranteurs and retailers have been feeling the gut punch for some years now. All-inclusive beach resorts and hotels dotting the Crete coasts have taken a toll as well, so the all-inclusive cruise model means that most food, beverage and entertainment costs are paid in advance onboard these ships. So, businesses on Crete can expect almost nothing from cruise ship passengers too. Then there’s the anti-sustainability paradox.
Greece leaders in government and business have been milking the “green” movement toward sustainability for all the PR dollars its worth. Meanwhile, big corporate businesses have leaned on hoteliers and political leadership to further their own goals. Another quote taken from the ABC story tells the tale. A marine expert was quoted responding about the new super-ships TUI and the others are sailing:
“These ships burn as much fuel as whole towns. They use a lot more power than container ships and even when they burn low sulphur fuel, it’s 100 times worse than road diesel.”
The low cost – high profit model that TUI and these other companies make their win from is simply not sustainable. And one fact you do not hear about is the fact that many destinations are turning down cruise lines wanting to make their towns bases of operation, just for these reasons. Overcrowding already swamped touristic destinations, the social problems this overcrowding causes, and other facts far outweigh the benefits of homeporting. And there are some places where huge cruise ship outlines just don’t belong. The Instagram below is an aerial of Heraklion’s famous Venetian fort walls and the Cretan Sea beyond.
Finally, the authorities in Athens and Heraklion making these decisions should follow the advice being given by key experts. These officials need to follow the steps being taken by Venice and other destinations to start bending the cruise line sector to the needs of their local constituents. These large cruise liners do not even belong in some areas of Greek waters, and particularly not offshore of Balos, Elafonisi, Vai, or even smaller cities like Chania.
At the same time Athens officials say they are keen to enhance alternative tourism potential like ecotourism, agro-tourism, sports and wellness tourism and other possibilities, the main push is still on helping TUI and other mega-companies push budget tourists onto the islands. At some point, somehow is going to have to regulate downward, this budget tourism aspect. This is abundantly clear, not rocket science. So far, no one involved seems to be thinking in this direction. Soon, very soon, Crete may reach a point of no return.