How TUI Cruises is making waves in the German cruise market

Wybcke Meier tells Sam Ballard how the brand is continuing to carve its own unique niche to guarantee continued growth and success

How TUI Cruises is making waves in the German cruise market

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Spring/Summer 2019 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

How do you stay relevant? There is no doubt that it is a hard thing to master. Established companies rarely want to rock the boat and mess with the tried and tested – especially when it’s been proven to work. However, when a company is in an industry that is, by most definitions, booming, what then? How do established names, in established markets accomplish that hardest of tasks and make waves?

“With every new ship we are improving our premium concept,” says Wybcke Meier, CEO of TUI Cruises. “On Mein Schiff 1 and her sister ship we created larger spaces for wellbeing and more variety of suites, partly designed by Spanish celebrity designer Patricia Urquiola. The sports areas are impressive, both the size and the offering: we built a gym area with an all-round view of the ocean, a multifunctional arena – covered so that it can be used in all weathers and a 438-metre running track – and a 25-metre swimming pool we have onboard all our new ships, which is unique in the cruise industry.”

Every cruise line needs its own identity, and this is it for TUI Cruises – the premium operator in the strong German market. In Meier’s own words, the feedback of the “guests, crew and industry have all been very good. We are excited to introduce the new Mein Schiff 2 to the market this year.”

With plans for the new Mein Schiff 2 ahead of schedule – the ship was delivered on 22 January in Kiel, Germany – the company has again used long-term partners CM Design, Tillberg Design of Sweden and Wilson Butler Architects – as well as Studio Aisslinger, who worked on the concept for Tag & Nacht, the ship’s 24-hour restaurant and Schauber, the biggest onboard bar. Again, it’s all about pushing the brand forward.

“Demand for cruises in the German-speaking region continues to be high,” says Meier. “Therefore we are delighted that our shareholders not only approved a further fleet expansion but that we are going to keep our ‘older lady’ Mein Schiff 2 – now Mein Schiff Herz – within the fleet until April 2022.”

The expansion that Meier is referring to is nothing short of astonishing, especially when you consider the fact that the line targets only the German market. TUI Cruises has three ships currently on order beyond Mein Schiff 2 – Mein Schiff 7, Mein Schiff 8 and Mein Schiff 9. What’s even more impressive is that Mein Schiffs 8 and 9 are LNG-fuelled ships built by Italian shipyard Fincantieri.

“The decision to run the two additional low-emission newbuilds is a logical continuation of our environmental strategy because our main objective has always been to keep the impact of our cruises on the environment as low as possible,” Meier explains. “I would say that we have come quite far on our journey: all six ships built within the last five years means we not only have the youngest, but also the most environmentally friendly fleet.

“Our new ships consume up to 40% less energy than vessels of a comparable size, and all our new ships have a combined exhaust gas cleaning system running 24 hours, seven days a week. They reduce sulphur emissions by around 99%, nitrogen oxide emissions by around 75% and particle emissions by around 60%.”

What effect does Meier believe all of this investment will have on her company’s position within the German market?

“With a market share of about 25%, we already play a significant role in the German market and beyond,” she says. “There are no plans to change our product concept alongside our expansion as we receive very positive feedback. The challenge will be to keep the high level of satisfaction with the product. Regarding itineraries, it is not only about new destinations but shaping interesting itineraries within existing destinations, giving room for individual experiences – for example staying longer in ports or including overnight calls.”

While Germany is the strongest cruise market in Europe right now – polling ahead of the UK – it is still a polarising holiday concept for many Germans, with 50% of the country’s citizens saying that they aren’t interested in taking a cruise. So, how can Meier turn the heads of the German people and make them view a cruise holiday more favourably?

“With two million cruise guests out of 50 million travellers, there is still a lot of potential in the German market,” she says. “We need to convince non-cruisers that by coming onboard Mein Schiff, they can expect a carefree holiday at sea while experiencing quality gastronomy, service, contemporary design – all with lots of room for individuality. Building new ships allows us to create offerings that will also inspire new cruise passengers.

“The order books speak for themselves: the industry will keep growing. When it comes to guest expectations, I can only speak about our target groups where I do not see that much of a change: our guests have and will continue to value good quality and service, as well as individual experiences. On a general level, guests coming from the German-speaking markets will expect more answers to questions regarding responsibility of cruise lines. We are prepared to do this.”

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Tuesday, April 16, 2019