The New Cruise Terminal ‘Alexander the Great,’ which commenced full operation in July 2023, has a total area of 2000 m2 and provides two additional berthing positions. It is fully equipped to handle both homeporting and transit arrivals, catering efficiently to cruise ships docking at berths 9 and 10. It simultaneously serves passengers and crew members of two vessels on a daily basis. The terminal houses the Port Authority, Customs, and passport control services.
However, what ‘declares’ more than any other port facility is the dedication that Thessaloniki has been demonstrating in recent years for the development of cruise tourism.
In the first decade of the 2000s, a period during which Thessaloniki and its port entered the map of Mediterranean cruises, and the Aegean became one of the most tourist-friendly seas for cruise ships, the city, although initially welcoming several cruise ships, quickly evolved into a “city that watched cruise ships pass by.” The reason for this was simple. With its focus on other forms of tourism (cultural, historical, religious, educational, etc.), it neglected to organize and systematically cater to the thousands of passengers-tourists brought by the cruise ships. Additionally, market automation did not function during that time, and the financial transactions of foreign visitors from cruise ships usually held no surprises. Deficiencies in infrastructure for docking such large vessels, combined with the blows of the economic crisis, gradually removed the Thermaic Gulf from the cruise map.
In recent years, however, the assumption of coordinated action and the creation of an organized strategy and plan by Thessaloniki Port Authority (OLTH SA) and other entities in the city of Thessaloniki have once again brought… spring to the cruise industry. In a short period, Thessaloniki became a home port, significantly increased the annual number of cruise ships arriving at its port, improved its port facilities, and refined its policy for cruise ships. The culmination was the establishment of the new terminal, capable of accommodating two cruise ships simultaneously. With the new infrastructure, the cruise terminal in Thessaloniki now has the capacity to serve over 6,000 passengers and crew members daily.
Every year, 600,000 tourists arrive in Thessaloniki via cruise ships.
At the inauguration of the new cruise passenger terminal on November 15th, named ‘Alexander the Great,’ Minister of Shipping and Island Policy Christos Stylianidis expressed the belief that the goal of increasing cruise-related tourism in Thessaloniki by up to 50% to reach 600,000 tourists is entirely achievable, ‘if not this year, then certainly in the coming years.’ This is in contrast to the 400,000 visitors in 2022. He characterized the port of Thessaloniki as the ‘jewel’ of the city and added that we are living in a historic period for Thessaloniki and its port. He stated, ‘I believe, it is not a coincidence that it is considered the primary city for the Balkans and the broader region of Southeastern Europe.’
The statistical numbers paint a more… favorable picture for the growth of cruising in Thessaloniki. In 2021, due to pandemic-related restrictions, only 17 cruise ships arrived in Thessaloniki. However, in 2022, 61 cruise ships docked at the port. The expected number for 2023 is 68, while in 2024, according to the current data from Thessaloniki Port Authority (OLTH SA), 76 cruise ships are anticipated, with 34 of them during the summer months. The first arrival is scheduled for February 3, 2024.
With the operation of the new passenger terminal, the port of Thessaloniki now takes center stage, as it is currently the only one in Greece that meets the requirements of the new European directive and operates according to the new Schengen entry-exit system, in accordance with EU Directive 2017/2226/EU.
Especially for the city, the ‘Alexander the Great’ terminal is now expected to increase the number of cruises in Thessaloniki by 50% in the coming years.
Upgrade to the international port infrastructure.
The investment by Thessaloniki Port Authority (OLTH SA) significantly expands the footprint of the Port of Thessaloniki and enhances the tourism product not only of the city but also of the broader region.
According to the Administration of the Organization, the new Cruise Terminal enhances the position of the city’s port in the international maritime landscape and creates additional developmental prospects. It is noteworthy that Thessaloniki Port Authority (OLTH SA) and Fraport Greece have initiated procedures for the baggage of cruise passengers arriving at the airport on charter flights, allowing them to be directly forwarded to their cabins, provided they have scheduled a cruise with Thessaloniki as the starting point, for the carefree enjoyment of their destination.
In the strategy outlined by the administration of Thessaloniki Port Authority (OLTH) to make the port of Thessaloniki an open and attractive destination for cruises, the Executive Chairman of the company, Athanasios Liagos, is often mentioned, emphasizing the importance of the investments being implemented in this regard.
“We are investing in infrastructure, modern infrastructure to accommodate modern cruise ships,” says Mr. Liagos, noting that 50% of the cruises in Thessaloniki are turnaround port calls, meaning they contribute to the local economy.
As for the new passenger terminal ‘Alexander the Great,’ he points out that the entry/exit system for Extra Schengen passengers is automated, as well as the European Tourism Indicators System (ETIS), which helps assess the destination in terms of sustainability.
The nationalities of tourists traveling by cruise converge in the globalization of visitation, with recorded Americans, Canadians, Israelis, New Zealanders, Britons, etc. Most of them follow the tourist route ‘Archaeological Museum, Rotοnda, Agios Dimitrios, Agia Sophia, White Tower, Modiano, and other city markets,’ while several visit Dion in Pieria, Vergina, Pella, and some explore the waterfalls of Edessa.
In 2023, Thessaloniki as a cruise destination experienced ‘spectacular’ growth, and representatives of Thessaloniki Port Authority (OLTH SA), on the occasion of the recent inauguration, explained that the development of cruise tourism ‘opened an additional gateway for incoming tourism from neighboring Balkan countries.’
About half of the cruise ship arrivals in Thessaloniki in 2023 are homeporting, while compared to 2022, six additional cruise companies have included the city on their destination map. With this choice, the port of Thessaloniki has been connected during 2023 to 15 different ports (previous and upcoming: Kavala, Alexandroupoli, Volos, Mykonos, etc.).
From the port to gastronomy … a la Unesco.
Thessaloniki is a modern European and multicultural city in the ‘heart’ of Northern Greece, serving as the main gateway to the Balkans and the broader region of Southeastern Europe. With 15 UNESCO World Heritage monuments and more than 30 museums within close proximity to the port, it is the first and only city in Greece to become a member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network for its gastronomy. Branded as an ideal city break destination and an emerging MICE tourism city, Thessaloniki offers a plethora of options. Once visitors discover the city’s attractions, they are eager to explore it further.
In collaboration with local, national, and international entities, Thessaloniki Port Authority (OLTH S.A.) implements initiatives and actively participates in events and exhibitions to further develop cruise tourism, promoting Thessaloniki and the broader region as an ideal destination for cruise ships and passengers arriving in Northern Greece. The strategic efforts of recent years are already yielding results, as the initial findings of a collaborative study with the Metropolitan Unit of Thessaloniki and the Tourism Organization indicate that 90.1% of passengers who have visited Thessaloniki express a high likelihood of recommending the city as a tourist destination.
New Cruise Station Alexander the Great.
The New Cruise Terminal Alexander the Great which became fully operational in July 2023, has a total area of 2000 m2 and has two additional berths. It is fully equipped, capable of handling homeporting and transit arrivals. It qualitatively serves cruise ships docked at pier 2 (berths 9 and 10) . It offers its services simultaneously to passengers and crew members of two ships on a daily basis. The station houses the Port Authority, Customs and passport control service. With the operation of the new passenger station, the port of Thessaloniki is playing a leading role, since it is the only one – so far – in Greece that meets the requirements of the new European Directive and operates with the new Schengen requirements of the entry-exit system, in accordance with EU Directive 2017/2226/EU. Some other useful facts about the new cruise terminal
are that the area of berths 9 and 10 is 32,300 m2 and the surrounding area 14,000 m2. In the meantime, ThPA and Fraport Greece have entered into a cooperation to ensure that the luggage of cruise ship passengers arriving at the airport on charter flights is forwarded directly to their cabins, provided that they have planned a cruise starting from Thessaloniki and aiming at the carefree enjoyment of the destination. The New Cruise Terminal Alexander the Great at the Port of Thessaloniki is expected to increase the number of cruises in Thessaloniki by 50% in the next few years. The investment of ThPA S.A significantly expands the footprint of the Port of Thessaloniki and upgrades the tourism product not only of the city, but also of the wider region.
The new Cruise Terminal upgrades the position of the city’s port in the international port scene and creates additional development prospects.