Costa Cruises holds an enviable position as Europe’s number one cruise line and Italy’s leading tour operator. The company is growing at a rapid pace, with an investment of €5.5bn underway and five new ships on order for delivery by 2012.

President and CEO of Costa Cruises” North American division Maurice Zarmati says the success of the company is down to its focus on hospitality. “Our ethos has worked well for us over the past 60 years – offering the best of Italian style, hospitality and cuisine and providing a vacation with the best in fun and relaxation. It’s an ethos that our guests tell us works – 98% of them are satisfied with our product,” Zarmati says.

Costa Cruises currently has a fleet of 12 ships, each with its own distinctive characteristics and unique style, sailing to 250 destinations in the Mediterranean, northern Europe, Baltic Sea, Caribbean, South America, UAE, Far East and Indian Ocean. Guests are sourced from all over the world: Europe (74%); North America (16%); South America (6%) and Asia and other (4%).

The demographic is growing in that in addition to the families, honeymooners and multigenerational groups, younger travellers are choosing to cruise. “The growth of the company has skyrocketed over the last ten years and the number of guests more than tripled, setting a record for the European cruise industry,” Zarmati says. “There’s no doubt we’ll continue to make our mark in this industry – and not only in terms of growth.”

Zarmati is well suited to direct this global growth. Born in Egypt as the son of an Italian father and French mother, he speaks five languages and was raised in Italy. His future was mapped out when his family immigrated to Genoa in 1956 and the first image he saw was a Costa logo in the Port of Savona. However, his first job was with Arison Shipping in the US for a Miami-based cruise line. He worked with the legendary Ted Arison and was part of the original team which formed Carnival Cruise Lines, the parent company of Costa Cruises.

Earning his stripes as a regional sales manager, he was promoted to sales director in 1979 and then vice-president of sales in 1987 – responsible for the largest field sales force in the cruise industry. He became the obvious choice to lead Costa’s presence in the US, where the Italian line is recognised as a pioneer in innovation.

It led to groundbreaking expansions into destinations such as Dubai and Mauritius and Costa’s Samsara spas were the first to feature accommodation with direct access to Wellness Centres and restaurants. More innovation is promised with the delivery of five new ships from the Fincantieri shipyards in 2012, in addition to the refurbishment of the company’s existing ships every two years. Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

New introductions

Two news ships will be introduced in 2009 – the Costa Luminosa, with a 92,700 gross tonnage and guest capacity of 2,828, and the Costa Pacifica, with 114,500 gross tonnage and guest capacity of 3,780, increasing overall capacity by 12%.

In spring 2010, a sister ship to the Luminosa will be launched, with two more sister ships to the Costa Pacifica scheduled for 2011 and 2012. “The five new builds will increase our fleet capacity by 50%, which will confirm our position, with 17 ships and total guest capacity of 46,400,” Zarmati says. “The new ships in 2009 will offer the best of our latest innovative features. In particular, the Costa Luminosa will be one-of-a-kind – not only as a trendsetter in contemporary design but an exclusive and innovative ship made to measure for customers who will settle for nothing less than the best.”

The Luminosa and the “music-themed” Pacifica are the work of architect and interior designer Joseph Farcus, and include innovations such as a giant 18m² video screen in the central pool area.

Other highlights include a 4D theatre with laser effects, a golf simulator with 37 virtual golf courses, Grand Prix simulator, outdoor putting green and jogging and roller-skating track. The Luminosa will also have the largest percentage of balconies in the Costa fleet at 68%.

The €2.4bn investment in the five ships is the biggest order book of any cruise line anywhere in the world, set to make the fleet the world’s third biggest by 2012. During the last few years Costa has established itself with itineraries to China, South East Asia, Dubai, UAE and Mauritius. “In 2009 we will double our capacity in the Far East by positioning a second ship there for the first time,” Zarmati says. “The Costa Allegra will be joined by the Costa Classica and in Dubai and the UAE we will increase our capacity by 50% with the arrival of the Costa Victoria.”

The cruise line also intends to double its capacity in Mauritius, increase its presence in northern Europe, where five ships will be positioned – its largest every deployment in that region – and continue to deploy five ships in South America. “In that same region we will offer another first with our incredible transatlantic voyage from Italy to Argentina, all the way up the Amazon River to Manaus,” Zarmati adds. “In 2009 we will also introduce cruises to New England and Canada in the fall, with five calls to Quebec, Boston, Newport and New York.” Costa also intends to build on and extend the partnerships it has established with the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, the Singapore Tourism Board and the Governments of Mauritius and Hong Kong. However, the Mediterranean is still “home” and in 2006 nearly 60% of guests cruised the region, sailing to nearly 70 ports.

“With its mild temperatures throughout the year, it’s an outstanding option for travellers, even in the so-called off season,” Zarmati says. “To that end, we’ve already begun developing this facet of the market, by deploying ships specifically built to sail the region year-round.

“The Costa Concordia and Costa Serena feature the largest enclosable pool decks on any ship at sea. Such elements ensure guests will have an enjoyable cruise experience whether sailing in July or January.” Other developments include a new training school in Jakarta, taking the number of schools to six. Costa is also working on agreements to manage cruise terminals in Marseille and Larnaca, Cyprus. The company was the first in Europe to implement a policy for undertaking direct management, which is already in place in Barcelona, Savona and La Romana, Dominican Republic.

Green thinking

Zarmati explains that one of the key challenges in the future is the development and maintenance of cruise terminals and port facilities in order to provide guests with the “same excellent quality they find onboard ships”. Furthermore, in terms of environmentally sound practices, Costa was the first cruise company to be awarded the voluntary Green Star notation by RINA, an Italian Shipping Certification Agency, in 2005 for the entire fleet. It is stricter than the provisions of the international MARPOL convention, which most cruise lines follow.

Costa’s 2006 Sustainability Report shows a 10% reduction in the volume of rubbish generated per person and a new non-food waste disposal system to increase recycling. The company also has a partnership with the World Wildlife Fund to safeguard three of the most endangered marine eco-regions – the Mediterranean Sea, the Greater Antilles and the north-east coast of Brazil.

And in 2005, Costa started to work with the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission for monitoring climate change in the Mediterranean. Costa’s priority is to offer guests the best cruise experience they can have, while respecting the societies and environments they are visiting.

Zarmati is optimistic about the future. “We want to maintain the growth we’re experiencing as our demand is increasing at such a high rate that we need to satisfy it. “Our guests tell us how much they enjoy the product, so our focus will be to continue to raise the bar by offering them innovations both onboard and onshore in terms of new, exciting destinations.”