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Cautious optimism for cruise bookings

Caribbean still ranks as dominant cruise destination

By Rick Eyerdam

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Cruise lines expect smooth sailings and increased bookings, especially in the Caribbean, according to a poll conducted by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) in mid July.

CLIA said more than half of the travel agents it polled reported selling more cruises this year compared with last. A quarter said that by mid-year the numbers were similar to 2011. Nearly 15 per cent said they expected growth of more than 25 per cent in 2012 over last year and 25 per cent predicted growth of between 11 and 15 per cent.

MOST RECENT STUDY

The Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) is a member of CLIA, whose members include AIDA Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises, Carnival Cruise Lines, Celebrity Cruises, Costa Cruise Lines, Cunard Line, Disney Cruise Line, Holland America Line, MSC Cruises (USA) Inc, Norwegian Cruise Line, P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean International and Seabourn. Its most recent study reports modest industry growth, most of it in the Caribbean. 

FCCA says the Caribbean continues to rank as the dominant cruise destination, accounting for 39.8 per cent of all itineraries in 2011 compared with 41.3 per cent in 2010, 37.02 per cent in 2009, 37.25 per cent in 2008, 41.02 per cent in 2007 and 46.69 per cent in 2006. 

Passenger numbers continue to remain consistent and high for the Caribbean despite other rising cruise destinations, the FCCA says in its latest report.

“In 2012 the growth of the cruise industry continues as we enter an era distinguished by 13 additional innovative, feature-rich ships, international ports of call and convenient departures from proximal embarkation cities,” reports the FCCA.

Order book

“The current cruise ship order book extending through 2015 includes 26 newbuilds (17 oceangoing vessels and nine European and American cruise river boats) from CLIA member lines, with 45,600 berths and a value of nearly $12 billion,” says the report.

“The selling environment in 2012 is likely to improve over the recent challenging economic period. Cautious optimism is the forecast for 2012. Based on known ship additions and deletions in 2012, the industry forecasts 17 million guests in 2012, a four per cent increase over 2011 and commensurate with the added capacity.”

The CLIA poll underlines the growing competition for vacation dollars. Many of the 300 travels agents surveyed said cruises in Alaska were very big this year. Prices for cruises in Europe are low but the air fares for Americans to get there are very high. Nearly 60 per cent of travel agents attributed stronger consumer confidence, along with an increased desire to travel, for the uptake in bookings.

About 16 million people are expected to take a cruise in 2012, according to CLIA, which expects increased interest in cruising in Brazil, China and Japan. The strongest sales have been in river cruises, including sailings in Asia, contemporary cruises on large ships, shorter trips of three to five days and premium and luxury cruises. 

The FCCA points out that: “Today’s new ships also offer facilities to accommodate family members of all generations travelling together, a market that is ideally suited for Caribbean cruising. From a product standpoint, our ships offer an array of feature-rich innovative facilities, amenities and services that exceed the expectations of a growing population of travellers.”

FCAA enumerates ships that offer a new generation of onboard features and a world of innovation, including surf pools, planetariums, on-deck LED movie screens, golf simulators, water parks, demonstration kitchens, self-levelling billiard tables, multi-room villas with private pools and in-suite Jacuzzis, ice-skating rinks, rock climbing walls and bungee trampolines.

Oceania Cruises’ newest ship, Riviera, is a classic example of a cruise ship changing hats upon moving from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean. She starts her winter 2012 season from her home port of Miami on 29 November for her inaugural winter season. Her marketing and excursions demonstrate the kind of innovations that industry excursions and destinations expert Mike Ronan described as ‘essential’ at the Caribbean Shipping Executives Conference in May. 

As Vice President of the Operations Committee for the 14 member lines of the Caribbean Cruise Association, Mr. Ronan, reminded the conference that Las Vegas rebuilt its lavish hotels every few years to offer something genuinely different to tourists (see Page 7).

Inaugural Cruises

The 1,250 guest, 800 crew Riviera, arriving from her inaugural cruises from Barcelona, will sail five Caribbean voyages over 12 departure dates featuring ports of calls from the exotic Eastern to the deep Southern Caribbean.

In addition to the usual sun-drenched beaches, natural wonders and the diverse cultures of the Caribbean, Riviera offers foodies the line’s new Culinary Discovery Tours exploring the local food offerings of the islands side by side with an expert chef.

Travellers can choose from five different 10 to 14-day itineraries over 12 departure dates roundtrip from Miami, visiting Philipsburg, St. Maarten (new port for Oceania Cruises); St. John’s, Antigua; Bridgetown, Barbados; Castries, Saint Lucia; Gustavia, St. Barts; and San Juan, Puerto Rico, George Town, Grand Cayman; Cozumel, Mexico; Belize City, Belize; Santo Tomas, Guatemala; Roatan, Honduras; Costa Maya, Mexico; and Key West, Florida. Also on the list of ports are Charlestown, Nevis; St. John’s, Antigua; Kingstown, St. Vincent (new port for Oceania Cruises); Bridgetown, Barbados; St. George’s, Grenada; Gustavia, St. Barts; Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands; Philipsburg, St. Maarten; and San Juan, Puerto Rico. 

Oceania has added new shore excursions to its already robust Caribbean schedule as part of its Pillars of Distinction initiative. For example, in Philipsburg, St. Maarten, a new port of call for Oceania Cruises, motorcycle enthusiasts can sign up for the Harley in Paradise tour for a memorable island motorcycle ride.