Karl J. Pojer, Vice President, Chief Executive Officer, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises
Please describe your position and role in the cruise industry.
I am the Chief Executive Officer of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises
How long have you been in the cruise industry and what other roles/positions have you held?
In May 2013 I was appointed CEO of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, a 100% subsidiary of TUI Group, assuming the management of the luxury cruise line, whose fleet portfolio includes the EUROPA 2 and the EUROPA, the only two ships in the world to have been awarded the prestigious 5-stars-plus ranking by the Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships 2018.
During the start-up period and first years of operation, I was also a member of the supervisory board of TUI Cruises, a 50-50 joint venture between Royal Caribbean and TUI Group.
Between 1980 to 1995, I held senior management positions - such as General Manager and Regional Director - in the USA, Germany, Belgium and Portugal and at leading hotel groups such as Kempinski Hotels, Sheraton Hotels and Pestana Hotels, Resorts & Casinos. As Austrian consul I was able to gain diplomatic experience.
In January 1996 I joined TUI and served as the Managing Director (speaker) of Robinson Club GmbH, a 100% subsidiary of TUI Group, until May 2003.
From June 2003 to May 2013, I was a member of the TUI Group Executive Board in charge of the hotel division. The World of TUI currently encompasses more than 300 hotels, making TUI Hotels & Resorts Europe’s largest holiday hotelier. Its portfolio of hotel companies includes brands such as Riu, Robinson, Grecotel, Grupotel and lberotel.
Please describe a contribution you or your company has made to the cruise industry that you are proud of.
Well, only last year, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises celebrated the significant anniversary of 125 years of passenger cruising and we are still looking back with pride on the long history of our company: In the late 19th century, the first leisure cruise was born of a purely pragmatic idea: the Augusta Victoria, the flagship of HAPAG (“Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft”), would spend its winters at anchor and out of use. Albert Ballin, the visionary and later general director of the shipping company, proposed sending the ship on a Mediterranean cruise during this season. On 22 January 1891, the Augusta Victoria departed from Cuxhaven, Germany on what proved to be a resoundingly successful two-month, round-trip cruise, with a 245-strong crew and 241 guests from Germany, Britain and the USA.
That is the past, however, now we can be proud of our more recent achievements: With the EUROPA 2, we have launched a luxury cruise ship, which is still unparalleled today. EUROPA 2 is an elegant, floating, luxury resort, which re-defines the luxury cruise concept. A ship like EUROPA2 did not exist before. The spacious design and the concept of modern ‘casual luxury’ has proved very successful. You need to experience this product and the “casual concept of luxury” in order to understand it and recognize the difference. And, of course, we are proud to hold the accolade of the only 5-stars-plus rated cruise ships in the world, according to the Berlitz Cruise Guide 2018.
Name a “highlight” in your career.
One of my career highlights was restructuring Hapag-Lloyd Cruises. Today, we celebrate [economically] our most successful year. The acquisition of the EUROPA 2 was the most important step in achieving this success. EUROPA 2, HLC’s youngest fleet member, was launched in May 2013, the same month I was named CEO of the company. It was built for us, but was owned by a private individual. The owner transferred the EUROPA 2 to Hapag-Lloyd Cruises under a long-term charter. After becoming the Chief Executive Officer of the management team, I quickly realized that these structures posed a major problem for the long-term success of the company. The owner, on the other hand, was in a comfortable position and had no reason to sell the ship. The initial situation was therefore challenging. I contacted him, voiced my concerns and discussed them with him openly and honestly. We had many discussions, which took place over an extended period of time. They were characterized by trust and mutual respect. And ultimately, in true Hanseatic style, we reached an agreement which everyone could live with.
It was a great day for our company! The acquisition in 2015 allowed us to bring the EUROPA 2 home. Ultimately not just one person deserves the credit; this was only made possible with the trust and support of our shareholders as well as our team. I want to say that I had supporters who believed in what we were doing and who showed great commitment.
What do you believe is the most significant advancement in the cruise industry – specifically in your area of expertise?
The cruise industry has revolutionized itself over the past decade. In the past, cruising was regarded as a type of holiday only for the rich and elderly. Today, around one in ten cruise passengers in Germany are younger than 15 years of age. The cruise industry has become so diverse, which is beneficial for the consumer. I like to say ‘there is a ship suitable for every taste and budget’. Today, I am absolutely convinced that the cruise industry is the most creative industry with the highest rate of innovation.
Looking forward, what are some predictions for the future in your sector of the cruise industry?
The cruise industry as a whole will see tremendous growth in the years ahead. As the Chairman of the Leadership of CLIA Germany I would like to explain the growth potential for our market: The German cruise market is now the world’s third largest cruise market, behind the United States and China. In 2016, 2.02 million German passengers took a cruise, a new record. Hence, the net cruise revenue grew by 17.8 percent to 3.38 billion Euros. For the future, my prediction is that we will have 3 million cruise passengers in Germany by 2020. In view of this growth rate, it is important to also say that the growth is based on increased demand. This is a good indicator of heathy economic growth.
What do you believe is the key to growth in your sector of the cruise industry?
As I already said, the cruise holiday itself has dramatically changed its image into a more positive one. Today, cruising is ‘sexy’. There are so many positive benefits associated with a cruise holiday. For example, unpacking your suitcase only once when you can visit so many destinations and countries – every morning you wake up, the cruise ship has already called a new port or country. That is a great benefit for cruise guests. Also, the guest can choose from so many different types of cruise ships, it is almost like a colorful bouquet of flowers – whatever tastes or interests, there will be a ship which will appeal. The cruise industry as a whole is very creative and thus will retain vacationer’s interest. Also another advantage of a cruise holiday is travelling in a very safe environment.
What is the biggest challenge in the cruise industry as it relates to your sector and how would you address it?
Well, the industry’s growth rate is enormous; and we see that some ports are not growing at the same speed as the cruise industry. There are simply not enough berthing places in some key ports. Of course, for a small ship cruise line like Hapag-Lloyd Cruises this is less of a challenge, since we can call at smaller ports or islands without any port infrastructure. But we also need a good infrastructure for our embarkation and disembarkation ports. I believe another challenge for the industry’s growth is bringing new ships into service, as increasingly it becomes more difficult to find a shipyard able to build a new cruise ship within the quality and timeframes needed. In Germany, for example, the demand for expedition cruising is three times higher than supply. With the VARD shipyard in Tulcea, Rumania, and Langsten, Norway, we finally found a shipyard capable of building our new two expedition vessels.
With the new expedition ships, protecting the environment and the destinations we visit and using the best possible environmentally-friendly technology is our sincere goal.
Please add any additional thoughts about your perspective as it relates to your role in the cruise industry that may not have been covered above.
It is a privilege to work for one of the world’s leading luxury and expedition cruise lines and it is also a privilege to work in the cruise industry, as I am absolutely convinced that it is the most creative industry with the highest rate of innovation.