"Our goal is to become the leading cruise line in the Mediterranean," said Alex Keusseoglou, President of Sun Line Cruises and a board member of Royal Olympic Cruises, the new umbrella company for Sun Line and Epirotiki Cruise Line, under which the two Greek cruise lines will operate as brand names.
According to Keusseoglou, Royal Olympic's goal is to become synonymous with cruising in the Mediterranean.
Keusseoglou also promised "significant" fleet renewal and said that the new company hopes to acquire another vessel in the 600 to 800-passenger range in the next year and that it hopes to place a newbuilding order in the 700-passenger range by the end of 1996.
"Our goal is to operate all the ships year-round," said Keusseoglou, adding that winter cruises would be offered in the Red Sea, in the Caribbean and in South America.
According to Keusseoglou, Royal Olympic will achieve economies of scale, not by having larger ships, but by operating more ships. Keusseoglou said "there is no question that a company can make money with small ships." He also said that big ships cannot operate efficiently in the Mediterranean.
"Royal Olympic is the last of the truly family owned shipping companies," Keusseoglou said. "We think the same way, there are no clashes of mentality."
"By becoming stronger, we can also help the travel agent community more," Keusseoglou said, "with co-op advertising, seminars and collateral materials."
Epirotiki's offices in New York have been closed and sales and marketing as well as new reservations for that brand name are handled by Sun Line's New York staff under Director of Sales Arne Egeland.
Egeland said that he would be adding two new field sales people in the next two to three months in addition to the eight the company already has.
Keusseoglou also noted that aU the ships comply with the new SOLAS fire safety regulations since they all have sprinkler systems. They will only need low level lighting and smoke detectors, according to Keusseoglou.
Although Royal Olympic plans to renew its fleet, it does not plan to become much larger in the near term. By the year 2000, the company's objective is to operate five to six ships in the 600 to 800-passenger range.
Royal Olympic has the option to go public, according to Keusseoglou, but would first look at the opportunity to self-finance acquisitions and a newbuilding. He added that the former Royal Viking Line ships in the Royal Cruise Line fleet were attractive ships in the "right" size range for Royal Olympic.
Keusseoglou estimated the asset value of Royal Olympic at about $110 million plus good will. The company has 190 employees shoreside and 1,500 aboard ships.
The six-ship, 3,190-berth fleet of Royal Olympic will be identified by the colors of the Greek flag, consisting of the "blue ships" of Sun Line: the 620-passenger Stella Solaris, the 300-passenger Stella Oceanis, and the 400-passenger Odysseus; and the "white ships" of Epirotiki: the 670-passenger Triton, the 300-passenger Orpheus, and the 900-passenger Olympic.
Keusseoglou said that the two companies' original fleets had been reorganized to make the new company more efficient. Four additional ships, will be managed by Royal Olympic but used primarily for charters in different geographic areas.
With a program of three-, four-, seven- and 14-day cruises, the annual passenger capacity in the Mediterranean for the six-ship Royal Olympic fleet is about 140,000 passengers, according to Keusseoglou, which translates into approximately 650,000 passenger cruise days according to estimates by CIN.
A key element for the success of the new joint venture will be to "totally have both agents and consumers understand the incredible value we will be able to offer," said Keusseoglou. "We will offer comparable or lower prices than in Alaska and the Caribbean - and what you see in the Eastern Mediterranean cannot be compared to anything else."
This winter, Sun Line's Stella Solaris will also sail in the Caribbean - while the Odysseus will sail in the Red Sea. ln addition, Epirotiki's Triton has been chartered to a Canadian tour operator and will sail in the Caribbean as well.
Next winter, the Stella Solaris will return while the Odysseus will also be marketed here but sail in South America. ln addition, Royal Olympic hopes to have two ships in the Red Sea.
Sun Line's blue ships will be geared mainly to the North American market where the company hopes to generate as many as 45,000 passengers in 1996.
A spokesperson noted that the typical Sun Line passenger is about 60 years old, reasonably affluent, college educated, and has been to Europe before.
Epirotiki's white ships are targeted mainly to Europe but also to the budget-conscious North American market, according to Keusseoglou. These are younger first-time cruisers and probably on their frrst trip to Europe.
Keusseoglou underscored that Royal Olympic's strength lies in its expertise in the Eastern Mediterranean and in the company's expertise in operating and marketing cruises. "We are much larger than most of the other operators in the Eastern Mediterranean," Keusseoglou said. "We can do things they cannot and we have berter cost efficiencies.
"We also know the cruise industry much better than the tour operators that have entered the industry. They will find that operating ships is a different business and, being tour operators, they will also have to generate their own passengers," Keusseoglou said.
In comparison to the North American operators, the blue and white ships will offer a Greek experience onboard too - not just when you step ashore, the spokesperson said. The ships will fly the Greek flag and have Greek crew.
Keusseoglou was very optimistic about the future. He added that with the Mideast peace process underway that there are many more places to see and explore in the Eastern Mediterranean.
For now, Royal Olympic's cruises all sail from Piraeus, but in due time, the company may also be operating regularly from other Mediterranean ports, according to Keusseoglou.