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„The decision was not taken lightly“

Celestyal Cruises will suspend its operations during the winter. „an Bord“ interviewed Celestyal CEO Chris Theophilides.

Celestyal Cruises CEO Chris Theophilides, Foto: Celestyal Cruises

Greece has become a sort of a „hotspot“ for the re-starts of many cruise lines, including the major international corporations. With your specialization and many years of excellent knowledge of the area, how can you distinguish your company from the main cruise itineraries offered by your competitors?

Celestyal Cruises is renowned for its regional expertise which allows it to offer unique itineraries focusing on a variety of destinations – both popular and lesser-known hidden gems – with more time in port to ensure guests enjoy genuine cultural destination immersion. As a cruise region, the Eastern Mediterranean encompasses a broad range of destinations including the Adriatic coast of Italy and Croatia, the islands of Greece, Turkey’s Istanbul, Kusadasi (for Ephesus) and Canakkale (to visit Troy), as well as Cyprus, Israel and Egypt. This hugely popular region offers the opportunity to explore a captivating feast of ancient antiquities, cultures and histories along with plenty of areas to relax and unwind with beautiful beaches and charming villages. Operating in our home waters means Celestyal is ideally placed to craft the most unique of itineraries.

Moreover, our vessels are also an extension of the destinations we visit. Guests can expect to find the Greek love of life expressed through various aspects of their experience on and off the ship such as the warm welcoming hospitality of the Greek senior officers and personnel, our locally sourced food and wine selection, authentic entertainment program, and inspiring and enriching shore excursions.

Our in-depth knowledge of the region and our long-standing experience of operating out of Athens ensures we have well-established relationships as well as ongoing open communication with all the local stakeholders and communities we visit ensuring a seamless and memorable experience for all our guests.

Celestyal Cruises has announced this week that it will end this year’s cruise season, which remains shorter and still influenced by the Corona pandemic, at the end of August and will not offer cruises until spring 2022. What were your reasons for this decision, also in regard to the reports and rumors that Celestyal Cruises is in financial difficulties?

The decision to postpone our fall and winter cruises was based on our feedback from the markets which continue to witness the lingering effects of the pandemic through 2021. The decision was not taken lightly, especially in view of the successful relaunch of both our Celestyal Crystal and Celestyal Olympia earlier this year but we feel that it is in the best interest of our guests, crew, employees, travel advisors and the communities we visit in order to avoid possible later disruption. 

Following strong performance in 2018 and 2019 Celestyal Cruises entered the pandemic in a very healthy financial position. The decision to not operate the fall and winter itineraries was therefore not made as a result of financial difficulties. In fact, the postponement of our fall and winter itineraries will serve to protect the financial strength of the company. Unlike many other travel companies, Celestyal Cruises currently does not have any third-party loans or other form of finance apart from the ongoing financial support of its shareholders. Nevertheless, it is conceivable that external funding might be raised in the near future in order for the company to endure the prolonged impact on operations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In challenging times such as these, pragmatic and realistic decisions need to be made, sometimes without the benefit of adequate foresight given the fast-changing environment. We are committed to taking these decisions, however difficult, so as to ensure the company remains healthy and returns to its pre-pandemic performance for the benefit of its guests and all our important stakeholders, especially our crew, employees, the travel advisors’ community and the communities we serve. To achieve this aim, we must be realistic and show patience and flexibility, even if it might require the need to make difficult deployment and capacity adjustment decisions along the way.

Foto: Celestyal Cruises

What are the highlights and news travelers can look forward to on board the Celestyal vessels from March 2022?

In times when guests and destinations alike are more conscious of people travelling in large groups, Celestyal’s differentiation of operating smaller, cozier cruise vessels stands out. We currently operate two mid-size ships – the Celestyal Crystal and the Celestyal Olympia – which accommodate up to 1,200 and 1,500 guests respectively and are intimate enough to provide a genuine and highly personalised service. They are the ideal platform to showcase the best of our region and are fundamental to our important competitive advantage of calling upon smaller ports to build on our authentic destination-centric philosophy.

We are always looking at ways to introduce new authentic destinations to entice both our loyal guests back and introduce new guests to the brand. For 2021 we reimagined some itineraries to ensure even more time in destination with full days and overnight stays in popular destinations, as well as introducing new ports of call such as the island of Syros, Agios Nikolaos in Crete and Greece’s ‘hippest city’, Thessaloniki, while in 2022 we are excited to be adding the city of Kavala, picturesque and steeped in history, to our destinations.

At Celestyal we are committed to ongoing investment to ensure the best possible experience as well as the comfort and safety of our guests. Recent investment has focused on further enriching our acclaimed Greek cuisine through exclusive menu development with acknowledged Greek chefs as well as, naturally, on implementing the enhanced health and safety protocols due to COVID including the introduction of state-of-the-art ventilation systems and newly introduced contact tracing technology to name a few.

In Greece, there is currently a severe heatwave and an increase in wildfires. How far are your cruises affected by the natural events and does Celestyal Cruises – similar to the COVID-19 pandemic (food donations) – offer assistance to the local population, for example in case of evacuations?

Greece is our home and it is devastating for us to see it suffering like this. In the past, the Louis Group, of which we are a proud member, donated fire-fighting equipment – including specialist fire vehicles, and Celestyal has donated substantial supplies of food and water on several occasions where emergencies or humanitarian crises arose. We are currently assessing how we can make the highest impact in this crisis too as it is extremely unfortunate to see our countrymen, and our natural environment, facing such an unfathomable tragedy.

Deutsche Fassung des Interviews: „Die Entscheidung wurde nicht leichtfertig getroffen“