How to build a perfect cruise itinerary

Giora Israel explains the criteria for a port to be considered as a destination on a cruise
How to build a perfect cruise itinerary
Giora Israel explains the criteria for a port to be considered as a destination on a cruise

By Rebecca Lambert |

This article was first published in the Itinerary Planning Special Report International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

How can I get my port added to a cruise itinerary?” It’s a question Giora Israel, senior vice president of Global Port and Destination Development at Carnival Corporation, gets asked a great deal. 

“When I really like the person who’s asking I answer with the following: “We don’t need ports, thank you.” As you can imagine, they are puzzled at best, but it gets their attention,” he says. “And then I explain what I mean. As a cruise line, we don’t sell destinations. We sell itineraries. To get a port included or considered for an itinerary by us, they need to answer one question: “how does your port fit into an itinerary?”

Israel explains that a port must fit two criteria alone to be considered for an itinerary. Is it workable? And is it marketable? “It really is that simple,” he says (for more on this, see page 8 in the executive roundtable). 

“To be workable, a port needs to be in the right location – it must fit seamlessly in an itinerary,” Israel explains. “It must also have real passenger appeal. What we offer depends entirely on what each market wants.”

Of course, there are ports out there that aren’t presently cruise ports of call, but which could make good potential candidates for an itinerary. And then there are those that aren’t an option for the simple reason that they aren’t workable, marketable, or both.

“For example, Mayagüez on Puerto Rico’s west coast is a port which is only 10 miles away from the channel which sees more than 40 ships a week passing through,” Israel says. “So why don’t our ships go to that port? Well, if we did, with our current schedules we would arrive there at 3am and then must leave at 10am. Its location, the timings – it wouldn’t work.”

There are success stories, though. “We started looking at regions like the Mediterranean and I said: “Why don’t we start going to Ibiza?” comments Israel. “So we looked into it and it was a workable option, and we also added in other ports like Sardinia and Corsica in line with what our passengers were asking for. Why did they work? They had passenger appeal and they blended into the itinerary.”

In fact, as long as a port is workable, Israel concedes that it is possible to make it marketable – to give passengers a reason to want to visit. Even if it takes time, and a slight name change. 

“In the south eastern part of Finland, there’s a port called Kotka,” he says. “In terms of its location, it absolutely worked for us. But at the time, it wasn’t marketable; nobody had heard of it. So we had to think about how we would fit the port in – how we would encourage passengers to want to go there. We came up with a solution, which involved adding a tagline onto the end of the port’s name: Kotka – Getaway to Finland.” 

Then there is Marseille. “In 1995-1996 Marseille wasn’t a desirable location – organised crime, violence and corruption gave it a reputation as France’s outsider city,” says Israel. “At the time, I suggested we change the name of the port and there was outrage! Of course, I would never dare, but what we did do was add to it – Marseille, Port of Provence. If a port becomes a door to a region, an area of interest, then maybe it can become a stop. It was a slow start and when cruise ships started coming to Marseille, very few passengers got off the ship. Yet in 2013, Marseille was crowned the European Capital of Culture and now passengers are beginning to flock to enjoy this bustling metropolis. It doesn’t even need the extended name anymore.”

While the actual job of building an itinerary is complex and involves many intricate details, Israel says that, like many things, the overarching principle behind it all is very simple. 

“Sometimes, you need to break big and complicated things down to their basic elements to best understand them,” he explains. “Take the great American investor Warren Buffet. Ask him how to successfully invest in the stock market and he’ll say: “You buy when the stocks are low and you sell when the stocks are high.” Principles are easy, and yet for some reason we always look for complicated answers or reasons to break them. We must have the inner strength to stand by them.”

Israel shares an example to demonstrate his point. “In the US, we have three major brands, which operate seven-day itineraries. Holland America Line will have an itinerary which it thinks works best for US passengers. Carnival Cruise Line will have another. And so will Princess Cruises. Yet they are all marketing to the same audience, at least from a demographic point of view. When you analyse it, the common ground is that all their itineraries are both workable and marketable.”

Of all the itineraries, one of Israel’s favourites is in the Eastern Mediterranean (see page 47), but there are a couple more he feels warrant a mention too. “Particularly the Western Mediterranean itinerary departing from either Barcelona, Spain; Marseille France; or Savona, Italy,” he says. “This diverse itinerary has plenty of great ports to visit and a wonderful combination of history, art, cuisine and culture to be enjoyed. And then there is the Baltic Sea. There is no other way to explore the wonders of the Baltic Sea and the countries surrounding it than on a ship leaving from Kiel, Warnemünde or Copenhagen on a seven-day rotation.”

Some of Carnival’s best and most popular itineraries are the ones which haven’t changed in years – that’s because they continue to work and have long-lasting appeal with passengers. “If you’re not an insider and you want to really understand what drives us, we simply want to know if a port is workable and if it is marketable,” Israel says. “So, going back to my original point, if you want to join our industry, do not come to us and ask how you can get involved. Instead, tell us exactly what you have that would make you an ideal fit for one of our itineraries.” 

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