The exhaust gas purification system on board the newbuilds is central to the cruise line’s emissions strategy, says Vogel. “We will still be able to use the usual heavy fuel oil on Mein Schiff 3 (and Mein Schiff 4 in 2015) instead of the more expensive marine gas oil within Emission Control Areas and Sulphur Emission Control Areas because of the system. It reduces sulphur (SOx) emissions by up to 99%, nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by up to 65% and sooty particles by up to 60%.” It is estimated that Mein Schiff 3 will consume 30% less energy than existing cruise ships of similar size and capacity to its 99,000gt and 2,500-passenger specifications.
Not surprisingly, Vogel says the cruise line is now examining whether the existing two ships can be retrofitted with this new gas purification technology. “Since the start, our company has done much to reduce the environmental impact of our cruises,” he notes. “Through such measures as modified route planning, optimised cruise speeds and friction-reducing silicone paint on the hulls (added to Mein Schiff 2 in last November’s refit), we have been able to reduce fuel consumption and therefore also the average CO2 and other pollutant emissions per passenger.” He adds: “Any knowledge we have gained about energy efficiency and the use of sustainable materials in the planning and construction of the new ships will also – wherever possible – be applied to the existing fleet.”
The brand has partnered with the Eckelmann Group to use an e-power barge to supply LNG fuel for its ships when docked in Hamburg. As well as virtually eliminating SOx and NOx emissions, this will reduce CO2 emissions by up to 25%.
Last year, the company finalised a five-year environmental plan which – as well as emissions reductions – sets a series of other targets for the company. Vogel explains: “We aim to reduce fleet fuel consumption by 5% (compared with 2012) and raise waste recycling by 5%. Other specific goals include compensation to offset the emissions of unavoidable staff business trips; a decrease of energy wastage per head on land; further development of ecological guidelines in our buying policy; a decrease in the threats from invasive species in our ballast water; and the enhancement of ecological training courses for land employees.”
The company has produced its first (30-page) environmental report on its performance and will now continue to do so on an annual basis. Vogel also promises that there will be an increase in the number of options in the brand’s Green and Fair programme of tours involving passengers in the preservation of natural and cultural heritage in the places they visit. For every tour booking, the company pays €5 to a local environmental organisation.
“We are very happy with the increasing number of bookings we are getting for these tours following their introduction in our 2013/14 winter programme,” he says.
It all fits neatly with the brand’s ‘wellbeing’ concept which Vogel credits with “successfully filling a niche in the cruise industry”. He elaborates: “We launched the 2014 programme with the best bookings start in the company’s history. To maintain those demand levels so that we maintain our current high load factors (about 100%) as we introduce the new ships, we will use both print and online advertising along with social media and other PR activities. We will strengthen our ties with the travel agency community as they generate about 90% of our bookings.”
Although Vogel is on record as pointing up the potential for national brands eventually to operate outside those source market boundaries, in the immediate future TUI will continue to concentrate on the German-speaking market. He says: “We have already seen an increase following a sales drive (Vertriebsoffensive Sud - or Sales Offensive South) in southern Germany so will continue to turn our sales and marketing focus to Bavaria and the Baden-Württemberg region as well as to Austria and Switzerland.”
Vogel believes that the christening ceremony for Mein Schiff 3 in June will provide the company with a lot of extra public attention. “As our first newbuild, it has given us a great opportunity to design and place all the retail and dining outlets exactly where we want them in order to maximise revenue.” (In an interesting move, mirroring other brands such as Seabourn, TUI has also started to sell its branded goods online (@tuicruises.com/shop) as well as onboard the ships.) He says: “The shore excursion desk is now integrated in the TUI Bar, which is a very popular venue on our ships, while speciality restaurants such as Surf & Turf Steakhaus and the Richard’s Fine Cuisine fine dining venue will be located – along with the Diamond Bar – in the stern of the ship with spectacular views through the huge, 167sqm diamond-shaped window.”
The arrival of the new ship has allowed the brand to deploy two ships in Northern Europe this summer while Mein Schiff 3 replaces Mein Schiff 1 on its Malta-based Mediterranean programme (a couple of weeks later than originally planned in June as TUI wants to give its crew more time to familiarise themselves with the new ship).
Although this deployment represents a significant increase in capacity for Malta, the allocation for locally sourced passengers will not rise. Maltese partner SMS has – through its Orange Travel – also been packaging the cruises as fully all-inclusive and made more than 2,000 Maltese bookings in 2013.
Next winter, the extra ship means the brand can again offer Canaries and Caribbean flycruises while also returning to the Middle East for its second programme there.
The building schedule for both ships is particularly tight but Vogel is confident that – despite ongoing doubts about the future ownership of the Finnish shipbuilder – Mein Schiff 4 will also be delivered on time. But, despite having a fourth ship in the fleet, Vogel says the brand has no plans as yet either to operate year-round in Europe or to offer world cruises.
This article appeared in the Spring/Summer 2014 edition of International Cruise & Ferry Review. To read other articles, you can subscribe to the magazine in printed or digital formats.