Chris Theophilides

CEO OF CELESTYAL CRUISES

Greece 2020  I  Tourism  I  Interview

BIOGRAPHY He was appointed CEO of Celestyal Cruises in July 2018, having previously served as the company’s Vice President, Strategy & Business Development, then as COO tasked with overseeing commercial activities as well as business development initiatives. Before joining Celestyal Cruises, he distinguished himself as a Senior Manager in Corporate Finance at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). 

“ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT MILESTONES FOR CELESTYAL CRUISES' HISTORY WILL BE OPERATING ON A YEAR-ROUND BASIS IN THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN.”

CELESTYAL REPRESENTS THE MAJORITY OF HOMEPORT AND SUBSTANTIAL TRANSIT CRUISE BUSINESS IN GREECE. WHAT ARE THE KEY INITIATIVES OF THE COMPANY FOR PROMOTING THE COUNTRY'S TOURISM SECTOR? 

 

Greece has been a highly sought after destination for decades now. The fact that Greece has so many islands makes it an ideal destination for the cruise industry. We believe that the best way to explore this beautiful country is through cruises. 

 

Being based in Piraeus offers us an unparalleled advantage. First and foremost, we are much closer to the islands meaning that we spend more time in the unique destinations we visit. We are thus truly more immersive and destination focused than others. Moreover, being homeported in Piraeus means that our financial impact provides an increased benefit to the local economy in comparison with transit cruises. Most of our passengers will fly to Athens and spend a few days in the city before and after the cruise. This represents a substantial boost to the Greek tourism sector and greatly benefits the local economy. 

HOW IS CELESTYAL ADAPTING ITS BUSINESS TO OFFER YEAR-ROUND OPERATIONS TO ITS PASSENGERS? 

 

We are the predominant home port operator in the country and the only Greek-based cruise company. We pride ourselves on being a 'national carrier' of sorts, representing Greece in the global cruise industry. We work very closely with the Greek Government in promoting the Greek cruising sector. I would say that our marketing budget is complementary to that of the Greek National Tourism Organisation (GNTO) given that our marketing activity predominately promotes Greece as a tourism destination as opposed to our company specifically. Other cruise companies, especially the American-based ones, have their marketing campaigns focused on their ship and the amenities they offer onboard. Our marketing focus is mainly on promoting Greece and all its wonderful destinations and how our onboard experience is, in essence, an extension of those unique destinations.

 

We have been growing in the last three years not by fleet size but by extending our seasonality. We are adding more and more operating days to our ships in complete alignment with the Ministry of Tourism, which has the objective of making Greece a year-round tourism destination. In 2020, both of our ships will be operating for 10 full months,  a record for our company. In 2017, we had 95.000 passengers; in 2018 the number increased to 108.000 and in 2019 we reached a record of 117.000.

 

We are already discussing internally on how we grow our fleet by 2021. The cruise industry is very capital intensive, so an expansion involves a large investment. We are growing as we expand our seasons with the main objective of reaching a year-round operation. To achieve this objective, we have implemented a bold growth strategy, broken down in different regional operating areas, to expand our business within the next years. 

 

As part of this strategy, in the last two years, one of our significant achievements has been to change our distribution model. Previously we have been working through intermediaries and have decided to establish our own distribution network. It has allowed us to provide a better service to our trade partners and guests while better understanding their needs and being able to offer tailor-made packages. Today, we have full sales teams in North America, Australia, China, UK and are expanding to Germany, France and other countries. Another benefit of this strategy has been to make sure we can offer the same level of service everywhere in the world, which has improved our trade partners' and guests' experience.

 

“WE ARE THE PREDOMINANT HOME PORT OPERATOR

IN THE COUNTRY AND THE ONLY GREEK-BASED CRUISE

COMPANY. WE PRIDE OURSELVES ON BEING A 'NATIONAL

CARRIER' OF SORTS, REPRESENTING GREECE

IN THE GLOBAL CRUISE INDUSTRY.”

 

Another important area of our strategy is to increase our investments in marketing, including a complete overhaul of the digital experience we offer to our guests. Finally, we had to prepare our company financially to be ready to take the next steps in expanding our operations. We have reorganised our capital structure to make way for new investments and have invested heavily in upgrading our assets. We have implemented full refurbishment programs of our existing vessels, including cabin and public areas and have essentially prepared the groundwork for the next step in Celestyal's development, which is the addition of a third ship to our fleet.

 

THE CRUISE INDUSTRY WILL INVEST US$22 BILLION GLOBALLY IN 2020. WHAT IS YOUR STRATEGY TO GROW YOUR BUSINESS IN THE FACE OF INCREASING COMPETITION? 

 

I would say that the crucial difference between Celestyal and our competitors is customer service. Our business model is to offer cruises on medium-size ships because, above a certain size, you can't access some of the lesser-known exciting destinations in Greece. Everyone, including our company, goes to Santorini and Mykonos. The competitive advantage of Celestyal though, is that you can also visit Milos and Patmos, for example, and many other places that are inaccessible to larger ships. 

 

This approach has many benefits. Our ships' size allows us to provide a personal service to our guests, which is an entirely different experience if compared to large ships. It also benefits the destinations we serve as our ships' size are adapted to the local infrastructure that is limited and wouldn't be able to receive the number of passengers of a large cruise ship at the same time. By serving different destinations in Greece, we consider ourselves responsible for the local communities where we operate. We put sustainability at the heart of our business and get directly involved with local communities to provide support to social activities and improving the quality of life of the local population. Our operations are responsible for an important share of the economic activity in these islands. We want the experience to be just as good to the local inhabitants as it is to our guests.

 

We are also improving and diversifying our offer. This year we will be adding Istanbul to our destinations in addition to a new itinerary going through the South Eastern Mediterranean, including Egypt, Israel and Cyprus, aptly named "3 Continents". We are working towards ensuring that a significant part of our business comes directly from repeat guests and are therefore focused on continuous innovation so that they have reasons to return to Celestyal, time and time again. 

 

The ongoing recognition of our product through the numerous awards we receive is a proud endorsement of our strategy to provide best-in-class services to our guests as we grow our very unique cruise brand.