One day in November, Stelios Haji-Ioannou
put on a tie for the first time in as long as he could remember.
The chairman of EasyCruise was heading to London's Buckingham
Palace to receive knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for service to
"I thought for
the queen, I would put one on," said Stelios, who prefers to go by
his first name only.
But the tie
revealed where his heart is: It was orange, the trademark color of
all EasyGroup companies.
The prominence of
this color was not well received in at least one area of his
no-frills empire. The first ship in the EasyCruise fleet,
EasyCruiseOne, was painted bright orange with a blast of white
letters spelling its Web address, making the ship, like his EasyJet
airplanes, a traveling advertisement.
"But people live
on that dumb thing for seven days or even 14 days," Stelios said.
"They sort of expect to make it their home and to be proud of it.
And they are typically in very elegant surroundings or picturesque
harbors. So I decided it is less important to have a livery that
looks like a commercial and more important that it is more
This change in
strategy is one of many that Stelios has made since entering the
cruise industry. Sitting in a Greek restaurant in New York, the
Cyprus-born British citizen said that EasyCruise is different than
his other Easy brands.
"Of all the
products we offer, it is the most emotionally charged," he said.
"It is leading the way among the Easy brands in being more
sophisticated and having more options and quality
It is also closer
to his heart than the 17 other EasyGroup businesses. "I come from a
Greek shipping family. I'm the son of Greek ship owner," he said.
"Aviation is a business; shipping is my hobby."
Melding the two
has been a challenge. EasyCruiseOne was ridiculed for having
covered windows in cabins and offering only a sports-bar menu.
Passengers spent more time and money onboard the ship than Stelios
had predicted, and EasyCruiseOne offered few options.
"I took half a
dozen risks, and half of them worked and half of them didn't," he
The ideas he
characterized as good were staying in port overnight to allow
passengers to explore the nightlife; choosing ports of call close
together to reduce travel time; and keeping cabins minimalist and
The bad ones were
addressed in a recent drydock before the 2007 season. Besides a
subdued new livery, the ship has a redesigned restaurant with an
international menu and revamped cabins, 60 with windows that
passengers can see through.
Stelios tries to
fill in gaps he sees in the market. EasyCruise's seminal moment
came when he was "stuck on a P&O ship" while speaking at a
marketing conference in 2002. "I was so bored," he said. "I thought
that there must be a better way of doing this."
When asked what
was wrong with other cruise companies, Stelios would not bash them.
"You can't criticize a business model that makes so much money for
their shareholders," he said.
He did, however,
throw a dig at other cruise passengers.
"I would, no
offense to these people, call them slightly xenophobic," he said.
"They are slightly less cosmopolitan and worldly. They need a lot
more hand-holding and almost appreciate being on the safety of a
ship at night."
bookings predominantly come directly from passengers via the
Internet. When asked why any travel agent would sell his product,
Stelios said, "It's worth it if they're going to lose the booking
altogether. If you can send them around the world on the Queen Mary
2, be my guest. But it's a different type of audience."
that a two-week cruise in the Greek islands with suite
accommodations is about $1,000, making 10% commission, "a tidy sum
To contact reporter Johanna Jainchill, send e-mail to [email protected].