With scarcely any fanfare at all, TUI Group exhibits still more proof that the German tour company pretty much owns Greece. The news that TUI Cruises was to become the first major cruise line to restart Greek Island voyages since the coronavirus lockdown began, was not widely published, and here on Crete scarcely anyone knew the sailings would embark out of Heraklion.
Starting this week, Germany’s TUI Cruises became the first large cruise company to base a ship in Greece for week-long cruises. The company’s vessel the Mein Schiff 6 arrived in Heraklion on September 11th, and then sailed two days later on its week-long cruise with ports of call in Piraeus for tours to Athens and at Corfu.
According to the news from The Maritime Executive, passengers may only go ashore on TUI organized tours. For the most part, the TUI cruise in question is just sailing around the Greek seas most of the time. And in addition, passengers are transported using vehicles disinfected for the small TUI groups. According to The Points Guy, TUI Cruises and MSC Cruises have been the most aggressive cruise lines in attempting to restart cruises since cruise lines around the world halted operations in March.
The Points Guys story goes on to say that the cruise lines have had zero COVID-related incidents so far. But this is not strictly true. TUI Cruises, partially owned by Royal Caribbean Group, canceled its July 31 German-based cruise to nowhere on its Mein Schiff 1 ship when it could not get enough crew to Germany to operate the ship following positive tests of five newly arrived crew members.
Other cruise lines have been plagued (pun intended) with problems restarting trips. As for TUI, the line has reportedly instituted intense health measures on Mein Schiff 6 including operating at just 60% of capacity and doing passenger temperature checks daily.
In order to get the locals’ perspective, I asked a random sampling of people here on Crete about Mein Schiff 6 operating out of Heraklion. Maria Papadaki, who owns an accounting firm in Heraklion was not even aware any cruise lines were operating in Greece, nor was she aware that Mein Schiff 6 was running cruises out of Heraklion’s port. When I asked her if she thought restarting cruises is a good idea, she responded with an immediate “NO!”
A few weeks ago the Greek cruise ship association registered concerns that opening the ports to cruise ships might create long term ill effects on the overall industry if the number of cases of the virus continues to rise in Greece. Here on Crete residents are feeling the pinch of tightening COVID-19 restrictions since the upsurge of cases. Government officials continue to blame locals for the resurgence of the pandemic, but the people are not buying it.
A year ago TUI Group CEO Fritz Joussen said, “Greece is in the core of TUI’s growth strategy.” TUI is also the market leader in Greece. He also claimed that TUI cruises make a strong contribution to the local economy. But local retailers, hotel owners, restauranteurs, and the general public seem to disagree.
Dr. Popi Ladomenou, a chemistry professor at the University of Crete whose family owns a village taverna was also totally unaware of the TUI cruise ship’s presence. She leaned a bit more toward rebooting cruises if the conditions were kept under control, but ultimately disagreed with cruises based on the limited value to the island, and the risk involved for locals.
I also managed to get hold of Ioanna Madala, who’s the Manager at the ecological/sustainable Koutsounari Traditional Cottages overlooking Ierapetra in the south of Crete. Once again, a Cretan who is normally in the know had no idea TUI was basing a cruise liner on Crete. She also pointed out the near-zero value cruises bring for Greece businesses, and the fact she herself would not take a cruise at this point in time.
The point here is that Athens officials giving a green light to TUI Cruises at this moment in time is not only unwise, but it’s also political suicide. There is absolutely no benefit for the people of Crete or the islands of Greece these ships are to visit. There is, however, every risk to be taken by the people who live here. TUI’s leveraged position in Greece has gone from a concerning thing, to become a dangerous proposition.
Fares for the line’s new Greek trip start at €1,299 euros for a balcony cabin (about $1,547). Passengers also get fed and watered, and there’s a duty-free store onboard so they don’t have to buy trinkets from the peasants of Crete or Corfu. Also on the cruise ship are 11 Restaurants & Bistros, 16 Bars & Lounges, and glorious spas so passengers won’t be tempted to visit our friends at Aegeo Spas across the island. In fairness, I refrained from asking workers and executives at those places about Mein Schiff 6.
Sorry, somebody has to take up for the Greek people.
Feature image: Courtesy Pjotr Mahhonin