Ever bigger, ever more sophisticated ships serving exciting new destinations – that seems to be the mantra for cruise industry growth. One example comes in the shape of Carnival Cruises’ latest 113,300t megaship Carnival Splendor, which will introduce South American destinations to the company’s programmes for the first time, reinforcing Carnival’s position as a global brand leader.

Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Peru and Uruguay all feature in the programme of 14- and 18-day departures, providing extended visits to the best destinations in South America, with the first sailing planned for January 2009.

Representing a whole new class of fun ship – which the company has dubbed a ‘SuperLiner’ – Carnival Splendor introduces a range of innovations, including a luxurious 21,000ft² health club and the line’s first spa staterooms and suites.

Terry Thornton, Carnival’s vice president of marketing and planning, has been intimately involved in helping set up the programme. “As cruising becomes more popular, there is a constant need to seek out new itineraries to ensure guests return to us again and again,” he says. “Our extensive market research shows that South America will be a huge success. The advance bookings are strong, even this far ahead, and we’ve seen a favourable response from past guests who are always looking for new cruising experiences.”

PORTS TO SUIT

The introduction of new destinations usually brings a whole range of logistical challenges, however, long and careful research enabled Carnival to identify suitable ports that were already geared up to handle a ship of Carnival Splendor’s gargantuan size.

“It’s been a case of plain sailing really,” says Thornton. “There was no need for the ports concerned or ourselves to invest in new or improved facilities or for us to set up local offices as the right infrastructure was already in place.” Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

“While staying true to our core market, we have tried to accommodate Latin American tastes.”

Choosing new ports and destinations is not just about deciding whether or not ports can cope with a megaship: it is crucial to ensure that the right kind of onshore experience is available.

“Although they are new to us, these ports have welcomed other cruise lines over the years and already have the requisite infrastructure and facilities to handle today’s bigger cruiseships, so it was not too difficult to find the right locations for our plans,” says Thornton.

“To make it work entails our working closely with our destination partners and communicating to them our present and future requirements.”

Additionally, when offering something new, the marketing, PR and sales campaigns need to step up several notches. This means educating and training the cruise line staff, and providing travel agent partners with the information and tools they need to effectively sell the cruises.

“We saw the programme as opening up a whole new customer base in South America,” says Thornton. “So, while staying true to our core market, we have tried to accommodate Latin American tastes.”

All of this requires significant forward planning time, which is why the programme is not being launched until 2009. There are many aspects that need to be taken into account, from fuelling and re-stocking to finding suitable shore excursions that will ensure that the guest experience is first rate.

“We have carefully selected our ports of call in South America for their overall appeal and for their ability to cope with a sudden large influx of visitors with high expectations for a memory-of-a-lifetime visit,” says Thornton. “Carnival had to be certain that the facilities at these destinations would not be overwhelmed when ships docked. Fortunately, our planning has not run into any major port problems so it’s just been a matter of fine-tuning to our needs.”

ROUTES FOR ALL

With a large base of past and existing guests, cruise lines need to offer the widest possible choice of destinations in order to keep them coming back.

“We also want to provide first-time cruise passengers, including those from Latin America, with exciting and convenient destinations that will encourage them to try a cruise holiday,” says Thornton. “For some time we’ve been aware of a growing interest among our existing passengers in cruising South American waters. In developing a deployment plan for our new ship we wanted to provide a wide variety of itinerary choices for what is effectively a new class of vessel, thanks to a new raft of amenities. It’s a litmus test for the future.”

“We had to make sure that the port infrastructure could handle the physical impact of such a large vessel .”

For Carnival Splendor’s first year of service, the cruise line has included its first-ever season of northern European cruises, a selection of Caribbean visits, the South American programme and a Mexican Riviera programme departing from the US west coast. The South American itineraries include cruises from Fort Lauderdale to Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires to Valparaiso, and Valparaiso to San Francisco.

“Besides opening up new adventures for our North American guests, who will continue to make up the bulk of our passenger list, we anticipate that there will be strong interest in Latin American markets, taking advantage of the convenience and cost savings that South American departure points will offer them,” says Thornton.

“We know our past guests are happy with the company and its ships, but sometimes you have to offer an extra enticement for them to book another cruise and opening up new destinations for them is a prime way of achieving this.”

CHOICE SPOTS

The South America programme will get under way when Carnival Splendor embarks on a 17-day six-port cruise – from 31 January 2008 to 17 February – that will take the ship from Fort Lauderdale to Buenos Aires, with visits to the Caribbean islands of Dominica and Barbados, as well as taking in calls at four Brazilian ports: Fortaleza, Recife, Salvador and Rio de Janeiro.

“A lot of research went into choosing these stopping-off points,” says Thornton. “We had to make sure that the port infrastructure could handle the physical impact of such a large vessel and so many passengers, that berthing fees would be economic, that there would be no adverse impact on the environment and that there would be a first-rate on-shore experience for our guests. Fortunately, those ports we’ve selected in South America have authorities that see cruiseships – provided they are properly handled – as an important source of both employment and revenue for the local community.”

With its diverse cultures and wide variety of onshore excursions, South America is one of the world’s most beautiful cruising regions and with a vessel the size of Carnival Splendor, Carnival is entering that market with a real impact.