Global Ports Holding: Vision, Strategies, and Challenges
Emre Sayin, the new helmsman of Global Ports Holding, discusses cruise business and shares his vision with CruiseTimes.
2017 looks destined to be a difficult year for the cruise sector in the east Mediterranean, but reports of the region’s ultimate demise may be greatly exaggerated – that’s the view of the head of the largest cruise port operator in the world.
“I believe in the Mediterranean,” declares Emre Sayin, CEO of Global Ports Holding (GPH), operator of 13 ports in the region. His opinion is certain to make people sit up and take notice, given the fact that, in just 13 years, GPH has built up a portfolio of 14 ports in eight countries. It has a strong presence in the Atlantic and Asia-Pacific regions, as well as in the Mediterranean, the focus of much industry attention and concern given the problems caused by political unrest and the European economic downturn.
As the operator of 14 ports and operating 3 cruise ports in Turkey, it is appropriate for the initial discussion to be focussed on the eastern Mediterranean. “I think 2017 will be the most difficult year yet in the east Mediterranean,” says Sayin. “It is realistic to expect flat numbers in the coming two years, but I expect numbers to pick up again then.”
He looks beyond the difficult year, at the longer-term potential. “When you look at the whole decade,” he says, “the Mediterranean has experienced incredible growth – it has grown faster than most other regions in the world. So while growth has slowed down, we have never seen a decline. We believe there will be growth in the Mediterranean in the long term, thanks to strategically located ports, good infrastructure, and a lot of destinations with great culture and interesting shorex – overall, the Mediterranean is a great place to be.”
Emre Sayin has a clear vision for the future of the cruise industry in general and is confident about its growth. “By 2022, we expect we will have recovered fully in the east Mediterranean. The long-term projections show that Europe will grow a couple of percentage points faster than, for example, the USA or the Caribbean in the next few years. One reason is that 40 per cent of all ships now on the orderbooks are allocated to a European itinerary. And some of the others could end up in Europe too because they have not yet been allocated. This means that the Mediterranean will benefit dramatically from a building boom that will see an overall increase of 45 per cent in cruise capacity by 2026.”
He certainly has no illusion about the future of cruise business in Europe. “Europe is getting a high allocation,” he tells us, “which is a very good sign for the region overall, including the east Mediterranean.”
GPH has a clear vision for where it wants to be by 2022. “We have a strategy and business plans,” Sayin tells us. “By 2022, we plan to have over 25 ports. We aim to be a very well recognised global name that not only operates ports but also develops destinations.”
GPH cannot be accused of putting all its eggs in the Mediterranean – or indeed, any one – basket. Sayin reveals the company’s dizzying plans for growth. Although it is already the world’s largest cruise port operator, there is still potential for much more.
GPH aims to consolidate its position by expanding into new regions. A commitment to excellence across all areas of its operations will drive its growth and ultimately see it becoming, as Sayin sees it, “a truly global, not just a regional, operator”.
“We want to diversify,” he says. “We are concentrating on growth regions such as the Caribbean and Asia, especially South East Asia. Because of recent developments, the Caribbean is going through a great phase. There is a lot of interest in the domestic market in the USA. I think Asia and the Caribbean will both grow further in the near to middle term, and, like others, I believe Asia is going to be the fastest-growing region of all.”
But he does not underestimate the challenges and the sizes of the tasks ahead. “These are very different markets. The Caribbean is very developed in terms of cruise. It has high passenger numbers, but it would benefit from a global operator like GPH, which runs the ports very professionally. In Asia, it is all about destination development and port development – it is more like a greenfield site. We are able to develop ports and destinations, and that versatility will be crucial for us in the future.”
Thus, GPH’s strategies will be markedly different in both regions. “Capitalising on these potential markets does present a challenge,” says Sayin, “but this is why we have divided our organisation up into two different parts. One, business development, which deals with different regions in different ways – we develop models depending on the needs of destinations in the state or city with which we are working. Then we have the operations side – this part is all about streamlining, integrating, and setting standards. These two different parts of our organisation will allow us to meet the challenges.”
At the same time, GPH is constantly looking at diversifying its approaches. “Diversification is good for any business,” Sayin tells us. “We look at cruise ports and try to understand their needs and then introduce an operating model that will make them run more efficiently.” Citing the importance of a “local touch”, he acknowledges that a one-size-fits-all solution is not possible in each port. “We have the local touch. We believe we have a formula that works really well across the globe – when it comes to streamlining, we can operate in any corner of the world.”
GPH’s approach is decidedly global, as its name suggests. In practice, like any other good international business, it takes local variation into account, with the help of technological tools. “Deploying our cloud-based proprietary cruise port operating system,” he says, “we code everything for international business – but, crucially, we give flexibility to allow for the local touch in each port of destination. This is the first software platform of its type that standardises operations for cruise ports. So it is a global formula with local application – and we would like to take it globally in as short a time as possible.”
Yet while GPH is acutely aware that time is now of the essence in a rapidly expanding sector, new ports cannot be rushed onto the roster either. The fact that they see themselves as being the only serious players in this niche area largely insulates them from the danger of competitors outpacing them in a race for growth.
“We have to get the balance right between being able to introduce the ports, and make them part of our system,” says Sayin. “That takes time. But overall we don’t think there are too many global players like us. We are a very specialist, niche company focusing on consolidating and operating cruise ports. In that sense, we don’t really have any direct competition.”
In this breathtaking era of the megaship, Sayin summarises the four main challenges facing ports and destinations – be they inside or outside the GPH stable.
“One: Infrastructure. For big ships, you need port infrastructure. Ports need to invest.
“Two: Managing the complexity of operations in an efficient way. This is all about time studies, flowcharts, and customer flows. How can we simplify things like going through passport control? How do we arrange queues properly? How do you make sure the timing is right for passengers to come and go as quickly as possible? This is becoming a problem for big ships. Previously you had 1,500 passengers, now you have 4,000 passengers – but you are not given more time. Everything still has to happen in the same time.
“Three: Security. This is a major concern of mine. As ships grow, they become harder to secure. They become more of a target. At GPH, we are very keen on security, and have developed our own security code that will include and surpass the detail and security level of the ISPS [International Ship and Port Facility Security] code, and include the new ISO [International Organization for Standardization] security code about to come out. We want to go above and beyond the call of duty to secure our ports.
“Four: The increasing stress on destination cities. It will take more than GPH to address this, of course. The stress includes the reaction from the local public. We work with local authorities to see what can be done – ensuring buses enter and leave the traffic at the right time in the right manner, and making sure the impact of our traffic is minimised in our ports. In some places, people are just fed up with tourists in general – and cruise lines and ships are then an easy target. I believe there has to be an overall effort from the industry to educate local people that cruise tourism is one of the most impactful tourism types of all in terms of getting to see so many places and different cultures in a short space of time. It is a great way for countries to receive guests and to market directly