Identifying trends and opportunities is second nature to Chris Allen, vice president of deployment and itinerary planning at Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises. “There’s great interest in cruising around the world and our target audiences are growing,” he says. “We look for opportunities to capture that and optimise our fleet, by adding new ships or enriching our itineraries to include new destinations and reach new markets.”
For example, the arrival of Symphony of the Seas in spring 2018 will enable Royal Caribbean International to redeploy other vessels. “We want our guests to enjoy all that Oasis-class has to offer with more distinct itineraries than we’ve had before,” says Allen.
“We’re also taking advantage of that new capacity to upsize some existing products, add new ones and grow in different markets. For instance, Mariner of the Seas will return to North America to offer short cruises from Miami and Enchantment of the Seas will homeport year-round in Galveston. Adventure of the Seas will offer a new programme out of Cape Liberty, New Jersey for 2018 with a summer Bahamas programme interspersed with Canada New England sailings, followed by an open-jaw itinerary between Cape Liberty and Quebec City in the fall. Meanwhile, Empress of the Seas has become the market leader in Cuba, with new programmes and destinations, and 2018 will see Freedom of the Seas becoming the biggest ship to operate year-round out of San Juan in Puerto Rico.”
The imminent arrival of Celebrity Edge, which will homeport at Fort Lauderdale and sail into the Caribbean in 2018-19, has already stimulated new developments at Celebrity Cruises. “The arrival of Edge will allow us to add new products, but we’re keen to see how we can introduce new programmes even before then,” says Allen. “For example, the Solstice class Celebrity Eclipse will replace Celebrity Infinity in our South America programme after almost 20 years, enabling Infinity to bring back our short cruise product. In Europe, the addition of Dublin as a new homeport in 2018 has created great excitement because of its unique history and its easy transfers for guests coming from the US.”
Customer demand is a key driver of itinerary planning for all three operators. “Azamara is responding to its loyal customer base by deploying Azamara Quest in Alaska in 2019,” says Allen. “Celebrity is reintroducing its successful seven-night Mediterranean programme in 2018 and it has added new itineraries in South America, Asia and Australia, reflecting customers’ fascination with those destinations. Royal Caribbean International is offering more of its increasingly popular cruises to Canada and New England, as well as returning to New Orleans for winter 2018-19.”
Allen says the challenge for the industry is to balance a long-term vision with responsiveness to short-term events – and customers’ views are key. “We monitor geopolitical trends and work to balance our itinerary planning with those factors,” says Allen. “You have to go where the guests want to go, but it takes time to reinstate a call once it’s been dropped from an itinerary. The challenge is in responding to short-term changes and events while planning itineraries several years in advance.”