An alliance forged between two Greek shipping families - the Potamianos of Epirotiki Cruise Line and the Keussoglous of Sun Line Cruises - has formed what will be the largest cruise line in Greece - Royal Olympic Cruises.
The agreement, effective December 1, 1995, combines almost 80 years of Mediterranean cruise experience, with both lines having inaugurated in the 1950s.
The joint venture also braces both families against the predicted infusion of cruise competition once Greek cabotage laws are eliminated in 1999. Equally important, the merged companies achieve better economies of scale by operating as one entity.
Initial details have Isabella Keussoglou and George Potamianos as Co-Chairpersons of the new company. Also joining the board are Daniela Keussoglou Cameli, to oversee hotel operations, interior design and quality control; Tassos Potamianos, a maritime lawyer; and Nikos Skoulas, recently appointed Epirotiki head, and also new President and CEO of Royal Olympic.
According to a New York-based Sun Line spokeswoman, the Royal Olympic venture represents an equal partnership between the two families with four board seats allocated for each partner. She added that Alex Keusseoglou, currently President of Sun Line, also joins the board.
Officials at the Athens offices of both lines were unavailable for comment at presstime.
Under the new structure, Sun Line and Epirotiki will continue as brand names operated by Royal Olympic: they have been designated as blue and white products, respectively, to represent the colors of the Greek flag.
Three ships each will comprise the new brand fleets, with four vessels from Epirotiki and two coming from Sun Line. The blue Sun Line group has the 620-passenger Stella Solaris; the 300-passenger Stella Oceanis; plus the 400-passenger Odysseus. The white Epirotiki fleet has the 670-passenger Triton; the 300-passenger Orpheus; and the 900-passenger Olympic (ex.-Carnivale).
Presently, the Odysseus is scheduled for cosmetic refurbishment this winter to give her more of a Sun Line "look."
The remaining ships, including Stella Maris, Jason, Neptune, Apollo, Argonaut and Mistral II, will be managed by Royal Olympic, primarily for charters. The new line will also operate Epirotiki's one-day sailings to the Saronic Islands.
Beginning in March 1996, the vessels will conduct a series of three-, four-, seven- and 14-day cruises to the Greek Isles, Turkey, Egypt and Israel. During winter months the Stella Solaris will sail the Caribbean and Amazon River, while the Odysseus will be deployed in the Red Sea.
No mention was made of the Mardi Gras, which had been operating on charter as the day-cruiser Lucky Star, and was sailing around the Caribbean as late as this spring to avoid creditors pursing the ship's operator, Lucky Star Cruises.
As part of cost-cutting efforts, offices in Athens and in New York will be consolidated, said the spokeswoman. In Athens, operations will be absorbed into Epirotiki's headquarters, while North American efforts will be handled from the Sun Line office. "This joint venture enables us to reduce our operating costs in a combined purchasing, marketing, sales and administrative operation while retaining a more human dimension and preserving the best traditions of personalized service to our passengers," said Alex Keusseoglou.
This merger of family-owned lines comes as no surprise. Both companies have had unfruitful alliances with corporate organizations: in the 1980s Marriott Hotels owned a significant share of Sun Line before the Keusseoglou family re-purchased the stake. Epirotiki recently extracted itself from an uneasy partnership with Carnival Corporation, which for a short time owned about 67 percent of the Greek line.
The brush with Carnival, however, has left the Potamianos family with the knowledge that Epirotiki needed to continue updating, both in in-house operations and management style. Toward this end, the Potamianos brought in Skoulas, former head of the Greek Ministry of Tourism.
"Of course we must maintain, even improve on our considerable reputations as family-run companies, but modern business methods and a strong professional management are vital in making effective use of modern principles, methods and technologies. I believe this to be the winning recipe for the future success of our new enterprise," said George Potamianos.