This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2015 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review.
On 8 May, TUI Cruises (TUI) took delivery of its second newbuild, 2,506-passenger Mein Schiff 4, from Meyer Werft. Sister ships Mein Schiff 5 and Mein Schiff 6 are on order and on 1 July it was announced that two further vessels were under starters’ orders, resulting in a delivery a year for four years from 2016.
This is a sharp growth curve for the company, which started sailing in May 2009. Mein Schiff 1 (the 1,924-passenger ex-Celebrity Cruises’ Galaxy), was the first ship in TUI’s joint venture with Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.
Present bed capacity is 8,848, rising to 14,000 in 2019. The most recent additions to the fleet will replace Mein Schiff 1 and Mein Schiff 2, which will go to Thomson Cruises within the TUI Group.
“The whole company is very happy that we can expand, that we have the possibility to build more ships,” says Wybcke Meier. With bookings being extremely good in June and July, she comments: “It is the biggest compliment from our passengers that they keep booking. However, with repeat passengers numbering 42% in 2015, one of the challenges is in keeping the present level of high satisfaction.”
While bringing in new tonnage helps, Meier is in no doubt that for those sailing three to four times, the experience needs to be refreshed. “We are always looking for smaller things which may surprise them but will not damage our present positioning.” An important component in this is passenger feedback, which TUI takes very seriously.
With new tonnage coming on stream, what is clear is that TUI will be keeping the German-speaking market as its focus. “The whole product is designed for it so there is no need or reason to be open to other markets,” says Meier. “Our concept is designed for German guests and the individuality of each guest. If we combined this with different languages, the concept would not work anymore. Last year there were nearly 1.8 million passengers in the German cruise market. The German travel market is about 70 million so you can see that there is a lot of room for more people taking a cruise.”
The future is looking bright and Meier is very positive about TUI’s position going forward. “We think that the German cruise market will be about three million around 2020 and TUI Cruises will have about 25% market share. We will keep our positioning at a premium €180 [ticket price per day] average. Also we are not aiming at 30% or 50%. We feel comfortable with our capacity and in answering our passenger needs.”
Travel agents are a big part of that and are what has made TUI what it is today. “When we went on the market it was really the agents who did a good job in convincing passengers of this new cruise product,” she says. They still play an important role, accounting for 90% of bookings, with many selling via the internet. However, with such a big variety of products on the market, “it is really helpful especially for first timers to know what different services and concepts there are.”
Meier is also mindful of the fact that the average ticket price is “double the price Germans invest in, for example, a Mediterranean holiday” which makes it especially important “to have the right prod-uct for the right person.”
To ensure the TUI message is getting across, the company does a lot of work with agents, including education programmes and providing opportunities to sail onboard. “It is very important to keep the relationship alive. We also try to supply as much information as we can. The internet helps to spread that information. It gives the passengers an idea of what a cruise is about.”
Newcomers are vital to TUI as they are to the whole industry. “The biggest market is to convince all the people who have not had the idea to go on a cruise to do so. We really need to explain this because many people are afraid they will be stuck with too many old people in a relatively small space. Even my friends and relatives say they will never go on a cruise ship but once onboard, whether 28 or 48, they say they didn’t expect it could be so good.”
Dispelling one of the myths, the brand has a high passenger space ratio of 40m2, providing plenty of room for individuality. “Everyone can find their own space and can really relax.” But they can also be entertained. All the shows staged in the theatre or new concert hall concept ‘Klanghaus’ on Mein Schiff 3 and Mein Schiff 4 are owned, produced and written inhouse. Meier says: “Our positioning is a little different from other cruise companies. It is more about a concept of passengers deciding what entertainment they are looking for rather than being pushy from our side. From the first it is designed for guests and what they want onboard.”
Turning to the most recent order, Meier says there will be changes on the new vessels but that these will not be disclosed until later in the year. She comments: “As they are sister ships, building-wise these will be minor changes. It takes teamwork to build new ships so we have to bring the parties together to see how we can make the product better from ship to ship – and also how we maintain the experiences that passengers will have onboard which are not to do with the ship. We have to focus on the product in general, not necessarily through the hardware.”
The extra capacity will certainly provide more variety in terms of itineraries but she notes: “In the summer we will always have two ships in the Baltic and in the Med. In the winter we will have more flexibility. We will add the Caribbean and Central America. We are already going to Asia for the first time this winter as a result of passenger requests”.
Considering the future, Meier says: “Long-term we are looking to convince people that cruise is a great holiday and a very modern and comfortable way to explore the world.” With four new ships coming, the brand is ideally placed to do just that.
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