By: Katarina Komazec, Founder of Adventour Begins
Passion, commitment, and constant improvement have always been the values that have united the people in the cruise industry. Striving toward a brighter future for the entire industry by creating new initiatives, projects, and bringing the community together has been a mutual goal of both organizations and individuals.
In October this year, I had a fantastic opportunity to attend the 63rd General Assembly of MedCruise – The Association of Mediterranean Cruise Ports, organized in Burgas, Bulgaria. During these inspiring three days, I had a chance to meet the cruise industry experts, attend great panel sessions, and expand my knowledge about challenges and different aspects of the industry.
Fascinated by the energy I felt at this event, and the passion of the participants and organizers, I wanted to get a deeper insight into the MedCruise Association, its history, main principles, and activities.
I thank Mrs. Figen Ayan, President of MedCruise in the mandate 2021-2024, who was willing and more than happy to answer some of my questions about the Association.
KATARINA: When was the MedCruise Association founded and for what cause?
The MedCruise Association was founded on the 11th of June 1996 in Rome by 16 visionary ports from 7 different countries. These ports decided to merge their forces and promote the Mediterranean which is the second most visited and popular cruise destination after the Caribbean. The goal was to increase the connectivity between the cruise lines and the ports and destinations, but most importantly, to widen the collaboration between different stakeholders with the ultimate goal of enhancing the cruise industry services.
That’s why our membership structure is made of not only ports and destinations but also Associate Members: Tourism Boards, Tour Operators, Port Agents, suppliers, and all those who support the development of the cruise industry in a positive manner are welcome to join.
From 16 ports from 7 countries, MedCruise has grown in 25 years into the largest port association representing 152 ports from 22 countries, and we have a record number of Associate Members: 54. We represent 3 continents with an overall movement of about 25 million passengers. So, it’s quite a strong association.
KATARINA: What are the main values of MedCruise?
When I was elected as MedCruise President in November 2021, I created a motto “Our Diversity makes our Strength”. Focusing on the community aspect and growing in a healthy and sustainable manner all represent our main values.
Talking about sustainability, we have two main pillars in this mandate. First of all, sustainability observed from a wider perspective, in a more holistic manner, where we don’t only put the light on the technical solutions to the environmental challenges, such as LNG supplies and OPS, but we are also conducting and making sure that our ports and destinations are socially sustainable and are bridge between the community of the cruise ships.
I think our destinations in the Mediterranean attach a lot of importance to the cultural, historical and archaeological aspects of places. This holistic approach means that we want to integrate the cruise industry as a whole: not only the ports but also bring together the community and the hinterland on a wider level. We have a very strong collaboration with different NGOs and other Associations like AIVP, or CLIA.
Talking about social sustainability, we are attaching a lot of importance to the crew members. Our Vice President of Destination Development, Lorenzo, has conducted a whole activity just to support the crew community as they are a very important component of the success. First of all, the crew members constitute the capacity of one-third of the ship, secondly, they are the ambassadors of the destination, as they are the ones that passengers ask upon visiting a specific destination.
Economically speaking, they are an important value as well. Not only do they represent the destination ambassadors for the passengers, but they are also a bridge of communication between the ports and destinations and also the cruise line management because they are right on the field. Crew members are really important to us and we are in touch with them, so there are a lot of things going on about that.
Talking about sustainability, we are also part of BlueMissionMed, which is the first time MedCruise is part of the EU-founded project. The BlueMissionMed is instrumental in one of the five missions of the EU, which is an EU mission dedicated to ocean and water restorations. So underneath this EU mission, BlueMissionMed is vital for restoring our ocean and creating a blue economy. This applies to MedCruise as a whole regardless of EU or non-EU ports. And, just as a reminder, from the 22 countries that we are representing as MedCruise, 11 countries are members of the EU and 11 are non-EU.
KATARINA: Can you tell me more about the Management structure of MedCruise?
Every three years, upon the election, the President is elected and appointed for a period of three years. There are 12 members of the Board of Directors: they represent the Port Members, who are, again, elected by the Port Members (not the Associate Members but the Port Members). They represent the 6 different regions covering MedCruise, which include the Atlantic Ocean, the Eastern Med, the Western Med, the Black Sea region, the Adriatic, and the Red Sea.
So, this is a big family! The Board of Directors members represent both big and small ports: what I mean by big and small refers to the high or low passenger flow. It’s important for us to include small ports as well so they can have a voice in their destination.
KATARINA: What are the main activities that MedCruise organizes?
Representing so many countries pushes us to be present at various fairs, conferences, forums, and summits. Being the largest port association, we are attending very different conferences, such as Fitur, or Italian Cruise Days, to name a few, mostly as speakers. Our goal is to explain the importance of the cruise industry in tourism, and to raise awareness of the ports and destinations in terms of sustainability because this is really the point that everyone has to be talking about.
We have strong ties and links with other associations and institutions because, again, collaboration and focus on the community are really important to us. We are, for instance, an affiliate member of UNWTO and we are in very close relationship and collaboration with Associations like ESPO, CLIA, IAPH, PIANC, AIVP, GSTC, ASCAME, ELIME, Assoporti, Puertos del Estado, RETE, and Mercy Ships. We are developing joint initiatives to support sustainable cruise activities in the Med and its adjoining seas.
Fundamentally, MedCruise organizes twice a year what we call the MedCruise General Assembly, which is hosted by one of the Port Members. Port Members need to apply to be able to host it, and we are already booked like the Olympic Games until 2027. These hosting ports present their will to host a General Assembly to the President and the Board of Directors, after which the meeting is held to decide whether the hosting port is adequate or not.
These General Assemblies are very much expected and attended. For instance, in May 2023 we were in Corfu and then we organized it in Burgas, Bulgaria, in October 2023, so from Greece, we just moved it to Bulgaria. The locations of the General Assemblies are as varied as the profile of our ports.
During the General Assembly, which is a 3-day event, we gather with our Port Members and Associate Members to discuss what we have done, our activities, our financial status, and other internal matters. But, most importantly, these General Assemblies are an amazing opportunity to bring together the cruise lines, our clients, and the media representatives from the cruise and travel industry. During this mandate, I am proud to say that we have gained a record of participation.
In the past, there were about 10 to 13 cruise companies coming, right now we have reached 17 to 20 cruise companies which is excellent. Moreover, we have opened the floor not only to local and national press and media, but also cruise media, and that’s why you joined us as Adventour Begins media company.
So, during these three days, we organize some platforms and conferences where we talk about relevant challenges or good practices that we are experiencing in our destinations. The topics are filtered by the President and are defined and refined together with the Board of Directors and Secretariat.
Besides conferences, the program consists of shore excursions, gala dinners, and farewell dinners where the participants get to experience the destination and local gastronomy. These phenomenal events and dinners are organized in very special venues which are normally closed to the public, which really adds to the overall atmosphere.
Then, we have B2B meetings, which have a structure similar to speed-dating formatted meetings. The ports and destinations meet with cruise line and media representatives only for 10 minutes to explain their latest developments, speak about ongoing projects, etc.
KATARINA: What has been done and what are the objectives of the mandate 2021-2024?
The objectives and structure of MedCruise are built up and created by the President, who delegates 12 tasks to the 12 members of the Board of Directors. These tasks represent the targets that need to be reached in the given mandate.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this interview, this mandate is focused on two main pillars. Fundamentally, the most important focus of this mandate has definitely been sustainability, but in a more holistic and complete approach.
In the past, the approach was bilateral, which meant that people were checking if destinations and ports were supplying LNG or OPS electricity, and if they were not, they were not sustainable. I wanted to go deeper into this understanding and create new sustainability possibilities for ports that could not provide OPS or LNG supplies.
So fundamentally, sustainability has been at the core of my mandate. That’s why from the total of 12 tasks delegated to the Board of Directors, two of the tasks are fully concentrated on sustainability. Valeria is a member of the Board of Directors taking care of the technical solutions related to OPS, LNG, and waste management, and Jamil is taking care of eco-awareness and sustainability from the social aspect.
Besides that, every single Board Member has the responsibility of having a sustainable approach to their task. For instance, together with the Board of Directors member in charge of marketing and communication, we decided unilaterally to avoid printing material and go more online, which resulted in the printing material of MedCruise being cut by 80%.
Our Senior Vice President, dear Francesca, is in charge of Professional Development Courses and provides training on sustainability. In January 2024, we will attend an event sponsored by MSC Cruises that will take place on board MSC Fantasia, and the main topic will be sustainability from both the cruise line and the port’s point of view. It is also very important that crew members have a complete and wide understanding of sustainability as I mentioned before.
Secondly, collecting relevant data is important to us, so we have appointed a Data Governance Company to take care of all the graphics, comparison tables, and more. It is vital to make sure that the data and numbers we are supplying are reliable, and that we have a possibility of comparing our numbers, traffic, call numbers, if they have been increased or not, etc. This data is not only accessible to our Port and Associate Members but also to the entire cruise industry.
When I look back to a little bit more than 2 years of my mandate, I am very satisfied because we have been able to reach all these sustainability targets by creating new initiatives, like the “One registration, one tree” campaign, which resulted in planting thousands of trees in Europe. This campaign started with this mandate, and the main idea was to plant one tree for every delegate attending our General Assembly. So, we plant one tree for each delegate after every General Assembly, and we do this in collaboration with different NGOs such as TEMA, which is a Turkish one, or Rainforest which is a French one. It is very important for us to do it.
Also, concerning sustainability, as I mentioned before, MedCruise as a whole is part of an EU-founded project called BlueMissionMed.
Another point to mention is that the port membership has increased since the beginning of this mandate. In the beginning, there were about 140 ports represented, now we have 152 ports. We used to have 34 Associate Members and right now we have 54. So, our activity is improving and positively affecting the Association’s financial status as well. Also, we are using our financial resources in a more careful and conscious manner.
In addition, we have started new initiatives such as sponsorships so that Associate Members have the possibility to be more visible in our events by distributing Sponsorship Awards.
Overall, I would say it’s a very complete and so far, very active and positive mandate.
KATARINA: What are the contributions of MedCruise to the cruise industry in general?
The questions are more or less interrelated, and I have covered some of the answers in the previous questions. However, I would like to say that overall, it’s very important for us to collaborate with other NGOs and Associations for the good of our cruise industry so that people become more aware that the cruise industry is not the monster polluting the cities. Just the contrary! And, this is what we explained to the European Commission a few months ago in Palermo.
We explained that ships were different, that the cruise industry was ECO-conscious, that we had started supplying LNG back in the 90s, and that we had supplied OPS in Juneau, Alaska far before the EU concentrated on these challenges.
The cruise industry is about creating memories, it’s part of the life of real humans who want to discover destinations they have never seen with their families and loved ones. Fundamentally, we need to be sustainable, we have to be sustainable and conscious of the way we are serving our passengers. So, I think that the contribution of MedCruise is aligned with the contribution of all the stakeholders of other Associations and NGOs to complete this understanding of awareness in the way that we are doing our work.
Talking about other collaborations and other Associations, we have, as already mentioned before, a strong collaboration and communication and dialog with organizations such as CLIA (Cruise Line International Association), Cruise Baltic, and Cruise Europe. We are a big family moving like one body for the good of the cruise industry.
KATARINA: What do you find the most rewarding in your position as President of the MedCruise Association?
Well, that’s an excellent question and all these questions are excellent by the way. I have to say that I realized the strength of MedCruise when, in 2021, we resolved the crisis between the border between Greece and Turkey, which was coupled with the pandemic crisis.
So back in August 2021, we realized that Greece could not grant access to ships coming from or going to Turkey for health reasons. So, MedCruise collaborated with CLIA, various cruise lines, the Turkish Ministry of Tourism, the Greek Ministry of Tourism, and the organization called EU Healthy Getaways, which led to the opening of the borders. At that moment, I realized how strong this Association was, and how beneficial it could be on international platforms for resolving the challenges that we are facing.
So, from a personal level, the most rewarding thing is to see that when you are connecting the dots in a proper manner and creating platforms of dialog and collaboration, there is no way that there are no positive outcomes. The result is always positive and collaborations are always successful.
KATARINA: Are there any challenges that MedCruise faces and what are those challenges?
I think that, as the cruise industry operates globally, we are always facing various challenges. Geopolitical challenges, like we have experienced with the war in Ukraine, or lately with a conflict between Israel and Palestine. And, it’s not only wars; we are also facing natural disasters like in Turkey, or Morocco, and also the international migration flows into the Mediterranean Sea of people who are looking to survive. All these situations are always pushing us to be really careful in the way we are doing our business because again, there’s a human aspect that is so important here.
We are now transporting and serving goods,
and we are fundamentally ensuring that people leave with good memories despite challenging environments. In that sense, we are constantly alert not in a negative manner but in a positive manner, so that we can create space of safety, security, and positiveness in a challenging environment.
KATARINA: Can you share information on the most recent events and some upcoming projects and events in the near future?
The latest event that took place in mid-November was the International Cruise Summit, which is conducted every year in Madrid. It’s a phenomenal and great event that I really encourage everyone to join, attended by cruise line executives and cruise industry experts. I was one of the speakers on a prestigious panel and I talked about the status of the industry and what is expected for the next year and months to come. I would like to send my regards and thank Virginia and David who invited me.
Then I went to Almeria in the south of Spain, where for the first time I attended a great event called Sun&Blue Congress. Many different speakers attended, and the main focus was on Blue Tourism and sustainability, not only from one angle but from a 360-degree angle perspective.
In January 2024, we will have a MedCruise Professional Development Course onboard MSC Fantasia and we cannot wait to have all our members joining us. It’s going to start on January 15th from Genoa to La Spezia and we’ll end up the 3-day training and cruise in Naples, so make sure to join us.
And, of course, the next event is the next General Assembly, which will be held in Tarragona, Spain, in June 2024. Hold your breath, as phenomenal new things will be organized, great content with fantastic panels and Tarragona is an amazing destination. I cannot wait to be there and discover the gastronomy, the culture, and the history of this beautiful destination.
KATARINA: What makes MedCruise so unique and special? You often refer to it as “family”. Do you think it’s a key to success? 😊
Another excellent question. Well, I think that the idea of being one family is what makes the DNA of MedCruise. Here it is all about positive competition, collaboration, and community spirit which are beneficial for everyone. I think we have to embrace our differences in an inclusive manner and that the fact that we are different doesn’t make us divided. Just the contrary, it’s our diversity that makes our strength, as I always keep on saying.
The reason why MedCruise is unique and special is that we are very dynamic in our organization of the events, we are very dynamic in the Presidency, in our Board of Directors, and we constantly want to give something new and better and that’s really a way to make us so unique.
I would like to thank you, Katarina, for these 10 brilliant questions.
Katarina Komazec is the Founder of the website Adventour Begins (https://adventourbegins.com/), where she shares her expertise on cruise port destinations and provides cruisers with helpful information and practical tips. She is the author of the “Mediterranean Cruise Port Guide” and creator of a YouTube channel @Adventour Begins. She has partnered with numerous reputable partners and platforms and is a contributor and co-creator of the CruiSea app.