When considering a destination it is all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if there is an outstanding attraction on offer, it is all that is needed to bring a cruise line to the port. Although natural wonders, cultural experiences, historical monuments and world-famous galleries are just some of the offerings attracting interest and very possibly ships, there are many other factors that determine what makes a destination attractive.
Different cruise lines have different needs, which became abundantly clear at the 43rd MedCruise general assembly in Alanya, Turkey, in November 2013. For example, while it may be obvious that large ships require longer quays and larger terminals, it may not be taken into account that those with smaller ships may not want to be tied up at such a facility. As Sander Groothuis, director, marine operations, Windstar Cruises, comments: “Galata Pier in Istanbul is a great location. Please don’t build a new terminal outside town in a commercialised theme town.” For Russell Daya, director, global port operations & developments, itinerary planning at Disney Cruise Line, however, the above might be something that appeals. He describes the problem of aging port facilities as “something close to our heart. The ships are bright, new and shiny, they don’t want to be sat on a rusty old site.”
All the major cruise lines have had to think carefully about their itineraries in the eastern Mediterranean region, which is suffering in the aftermath of the Arab Spring and ongoing regional unrest. Holland America Line is one line that has moved ships from the eastern to the western Mediterranean. As Justin Poulsen, senior manager, deployment & itinerary planning for Holland America Line, points out: “The net margin in the west Med is higher than in the east Med”. Wherever such a disparity is evident and wherever in the world it occurs, cruise lines are likely to move their ships to where the figures add up more favourably.
On 5 February, Royal Caribbean International made a strong commitment to the western Mediterranean cruise market with the announcement that Allure of the Seas will be deployed from Barcelona in 2015. “Sending the largest cruise ship in the world to Europe for a full season is a bold move and reflects the confidence that our Oasis-class product will resonate in Europe but will also deliver an exceptional product,” says Christopher Allen, associate vice president, global deployment and itinerary planning for Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises. “We have been working closely with many of the ports and destinations in planning for Allure of the Seas. This planning will continue in order to ensure that the destination experience is exceptional.”
Itinerary shifts due to geopolitical uncertainties can have the positive side-effect of providing new ports with opportunities to offer appealing alternatives. Claudius Docekal, head of deployment and destinations at Azamara Club Cruises, says: “We needed a port with a major attraction in the eastern Med because we lost Syria, Egypt and North Africa. We are still going to Israel but we don’t get the same volume without Egypt (which has been left out of itineraries for 2014 and 2015). The company is now calling at Paphos in Cyprus, which is a great success. “People love it. There are beautiful mosaics and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in walking distance from the tender pier. The town is great for independents.”
The latter point is becoming increasingly important for Azamara, which has seen the number of passengers taking a tour drop to 30% in the Mediterranean, whereas once it was up at 60-70%. Docekal says: “The independent traveller who wants to experience a place on their own – you need to cater to them.” The above split is not seen in, for example, Asia, where 50-60% of passengers take a tour, or in the Baltic where the numbers are higher. Whatever the situation, Docekal comments: “Shore excursions are very, very important when selecting a port. Variety matters, value matters, whichever line you cruise on.”
Many of the European destinations affected by the sweeping changes of the last few years are of crucial importance to those cruise lines that are heavily invested in historical itineraries in the region. Speaking at the Posidonia Sea Tourism Forum 2013, Michael Pawlus, director of strategic itinerary planning for the six-star cruise line Silversea Cruises, talked about the itineraries his company was committed to in the region, with calls reaching as far afield as Ashdod in the southern Med and Odessa in the Black Sea. Silversea bases four of its seven ships in the Mediterranean and Black Sea region – Silver Cloud, Silver Wind, Silver Whisper and Silver Spirit. Pawlus listed his parameters for cruise success as including “guests’ interest and satisfaction; port costs and fuel costs; evening and overnight calls; a mixture of experience; shore excursion selections and marketability.” He added: “Silversea’s guests come from all over the world. They are sophisticated, well educated and affluent and travel to be enriched by foreign cultures and places of historical importance. We have loyal guests with hundreds of cruising days.”
In recent years, hop-on hop-off buses have become a common feature in many ports, enabling passengers to see a place for themselves at a relatively low cost. While appealing to the independent traveller, these can be seen as taking revenue away from shore excursions. Princess Cruises’ manager, shore excursions, Europe & Exotics shore operations, Rob Roberts points out that destination marketing, not only to the cruise lines but also to the passengers, is what drives shore excursion revenue – but he warns of the need to put passengers first: “Encouraging independent experiences sometimes leads to a poor experience, which may lead us to wonder why we would come.”
This article appeared in the Spring/Summer 2014 edition of International Cruise & Ferry Review. To read the full article, you can subscribe to the magazine in printed or digital formats.