The cruise industry is one of the most exciting growth categories in the entire leisure market. Despite talk of a global recession, the industry seems to be in a strong position, largely due to a dedicated clientele of cruise passengers. Since 1980, the industry has had an average annual passenger growth rate of 8.1% per annum. The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) estimates that 12.6 million people cruised in 2007, a 4.6% increase from 2006.

The largest cruise company in the world, Carnival Cruise lines, is putting most of its new ships in its European brands, and Royal Caribbean International (RCI) is also basing more of its fleet in distant ports. Carnival and RCI reported revenues for 2007 at $13.1bn and $6.1bn, respectively, building on their 2006 figures of $11.84bn and $5.2bn respectively.

However, passengers will be paying fuel surcharges upwards of $5 per person per day on many ships as the price of oil rises. According to a recent CLIA report, 50% of cruise passengers book their voyages more than seven months ahead of the departure date. The CLIA expects traffic to grow more slowly in 2008, but still be up 1.6% from 2007.

OPERATIONS

This year, the focus is on Asia, South America and Europe as lines reach out to customers across the globe. The Mediterranean is the fourth most-booked itinerary for 2008, just behind the Mexican Riviera, according to agents surveyed by Cruise Holidays, a Minneapolis-based network of more than 100 US cruise retailers.

The survey found that in 2007, the Caribbean accounted for 43% of bookings, Alaska 15%, Mexican Riviera 8% and Europe/Mediterranean 8%. Bookings for all three destinations increased, with a 17% rise for Alaska, 4% for the Caribbean and a staggering 42% for Europe. For US passengers paying in dollars, cruising is one of the least expensive ways to explore Europe.

“Passengers will be paying fuel surcharges upwards of $5 per person per day on many ships as the price of oil rises.”

The North American cruise market is very strong: new port facilities with quicker processing and greater air connections have opened up cruising to a new generation of passengers. Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

As expected, Carnival remains top of the list, thanks to the launch of new ships Carnival Freedom and Carnival Liberty during 2006-07. This year Carnival is adding the Caribbean to its schedules for the first time.

However, despite overcrowding in the area, operators are still extending their reach, albeit on a smaller scale. For example, Carnival has opened a port at Grand Turk in the eastern Caribbean and brought in tour operators offering local tour activities. Both Holland America and Princess Cruises have also added more stops to their itineraries in this area.

South America’s great appeal lies in its variety of destinations, from the Andes to Antarctica. Both of Crystal Cruises’ ships will visit Asia in 2008, which reflects a growing interest in Dubai, India and China, host of the 2008 Olympics. As supply to the Caribbean falls, cruise prices have risen.

FACILITIES AND AMENITIES

Most cruiseships are broadening their guest amenities considerably with extra suites, adults-only zones and more restaurants, as well as providing diverse activities such as wine tastings at sea, cooking classes and behind-the-scenes food programmes. For example, Cunard’s new 90,000t, 2,250 passenger-capacity Queen Victoria, launched in December 2007, is the first ship to offer fencing lessons at sea.

“Most cruiseships are broadening their guest amenities considerably with extra suites, adults-only zones and more restaurants.”

This year also sees several high-profile launches including Carnival Splendor, Celebrity Solstice, Holland America’s Eurodam, Princess Cruises’ Ruby Princess, MSC’s Fantasia and Poesia, and Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas Carnival Splendor and Celebrity Solstice boast suites and staterooms and will cater to spa enthusiasts with special access and priority appointments. Carnival’s latest and largest ‘Fun Ship’, Carnival Splendor, has room for 3,006 passengers. It also has the largest spa and fitness facility in the Carnival fleet, with an area of 21,000ft².

Onboard Serenity, Carnival is phasing in areas on aft decks as adults-only retreats. Cruisers are also being offered more luxurious accommodation including private elevators, private courtyards and suites near spas. Launched only in November 2007, Norwegian Gem has one- and two-bedroom suites in its Courtyard Villa with a private lap pool, hot tub, steam rooms and fitness area.

In 2007, Celebrity Cruises launched a new luxury line Azamara with two ships, Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest, both operating on South American itineraries. Both ships carry 694 guests and offer Sky Suites with in-suite spa services. This summer the two vessels will head to Europe, and Azamara Quest will later sail in Asia.