The Cruise Lines International Association 2017 Conference will be held next week in Southampton. ITTN Editor Michael Flood interviewed Stuart Leven, Chair of CLIA and recently appointed Vice-President and Managing Director, Royal Caribbean International for Europe.
Cruising continues to grow apace with Irish holidaymakers – and has become a major revenue source for many travel agents nationwide. Figures from CLIA show that a record 1.9 million holidaymakers from the UK and Ireland took an ocean cruise in 2016. This growth comes at a time of sustained investment by the cruise industry. With global cruise fleet capacity set to increase by at least a third over the next 10 years, major source markets such as the UK and Ireland will be spoilt for choice.
As our love affair with the traditional Mediterranean holiday continues to go from strength to strength, the cruise sector is reaping the benefits as holidaymakers make the most of being able to visit multiple European hot spots in one cruise holiday. Mediterranean fly-cruises remain the number one choice (458,000 passengers in 2016), with Western Europe itineraries from UK ports (272,000) now firmly established at number two.
2016 was also a great year when it came to ultra-luxury cruises, with a host of new ships being launched in the sector and a record number of passengers opting to sail with one of the ultra-luxury brands. A near 9% rise in sales ensured that the total surpassed the 2012 peak of 28,450 and fell just short of 29,000. A sure sign that the incredible 5-star and 6-star experiences offered by cruise lines such as Silversea continue to exceed expectations. For example, Silversea’s new flagship, the ultra-luxury Silver Muse (above), is calling at 130 ports in 34 countries in 2017.
The number of passengers starting their cruise holiday at home grew strongly in 2016 with UK cruise departures now accounting for 48% of the market. The 2016 comparison reflects a 9% rise in the number of passengers departing from the UK (912,000 passengers), which can be attributed to the convenience of travelling to the port, the wide range of state-of-the-art ships now sailing from the UK, and the value for money that an ‘ex-UK’ sailing offers holidaymakers.
Fly-cruises were also on the up in 2016 with a 2.8% increase as those travelling from the UK and Ireland choose to make the most of the new ports and destinations that cruise lines are visiting.
Andy Harmer, Senior Vice President, Membership & Director, CLIA UK & Ireland said: “The past year was an impressive one for the UK and Ireland cruise industry. The increase in passenger figures is a testament to the industry’s resilience to economic and political change and further demonstrates the value that a cruise holiday offers. Cruise lines are continuing to invest in new ships and new onboard and ashore experiences.
“Customers are becoming increasingly aware of the incredible experiences on offer, and this all points to continued growth for the UK and Irish cruise market in the year ahead.”
Stuart Leven on the Irish Market
The Irish cruise market has grown to more than 36,000 passengers in 2016, with the Mediterranean accounting for 60%, followed by the Caribbean at 22%. Add in the Northern Ireland numbers and the total market in Ireland last year was more than 50,000.
Royal Caribbean International is now the largest cruise company in the world, has the largest share of the Irish market, and last November was once again voted Best Cruise Company at the 2016 Irish Travel Trade Awards.
Stuart Leven’s new role will include responsibility for Royal Caribbean International (UK and Ireland) and Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises across the rest of Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
He believes that CLIA has a very important role to play in training new agents on how to sell cruises and to encourage existing agents to sell the right cruise to each customer.
Over the past three years he has noted the trend that 45% of cruise passengers from Ireland were new to the cruise market and that the average age has dropped from 55 to 45, much of which is due to the offering that RCI has brought to the market. Over the past four years RCI has launched five new ships, including Harmony of the Seas.
“Harmony was the best-selling ship for Royal Caribbean in the Irish market last year,” said Stuart. “She was also the number one video on BBC and the most Googled cruise ship in the world.
“The space that you get on Royal Caribbean ships in most of the public areas is much greater than on other lines’ cruise ships. The value offering on Royal is superior to other cruise ships because of the vast monetary investment in the product.
“Royal has 25 major decisions to make every year and these are to select the top 25 destinations for the fleet.
“If you take the total UK and Ireland cruise market you have 6% market penetration of the total holiday market. However if you look at the total cruise market for Europe you have 6.6 million, which is only 1% market penetration. However, if that figure was to double to 2% there would not be enough cruise ships, from all the companies, to cope with the resulting demand.
“The planned new Aer Lingus route from Dublin to Miami, commencing next September, will certainly open up new opportunities for Royal Caribbean in the Irish market. In particular, it will create increased access from Fort Lauderdale to the Caribbean and to the Bahamas.
“At Royal Caribbean our aim is to take the ordinary and make it extraordinary. We are the pioneers of many firsts at sea, offering a playground of incredible experiences on 25 of the world’s most innovative and spectacular ships, visiting over 250 destinations around the globe.
“It’s full steam ahead for Royal Caribbean for increased business from Ireland and the rest of Europe,” concluded a very optimistic Stuart Leven.