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Cruise Industry In Flux

Written by: Kuki

The cruise industry is just coming out of the tumultuous efforts required to deal with the threats from the N1H1 (swine flu) Virus, and prior to that the hullabaloo caused by the outing of Royal Caribbean’s “Royal Champs” viral marketing campaign. And, of course, since last Fall the industry has been dealing with the myriad of issues caused by the sliding world wide economy and its consequences on the industry.

The tremendous discounting on ship’s sailing in Alaska this spring and summer has been most interesting, and certainly beneficial to those who were/are able to take advantage of the situation. As has the discounting on most European cruise itineraries for the upcoming summer season.

Through these early months of 2009 it seems that the cruise industry has sailed its way through some of the most difficult times its experienced since Sept. 11, 2001. Yet, for such a huge industry it has shown itself to be amazingly “light on its feet”; able to adjust policies and practices, and implement them, much more quickly than many other global industries. While not all the adjustments have been widely accepted by cruise enthusiasts, including myself, the success of the changes has been proven by significant increases in the share values of the major lines, and now rather steady results in the increase in future bookings.

And even as a critic of the direction of some of the adjustments I have to applaud the industry’s ability to swiftly react, and redirect their focus in order to survive. It’s particularly impressive because historically this is an industry which lays out its plans years ahead.

In the short run I think those of us who want to see the industry flourish and prosper will have to be a bit more accepting of cutbacks and policy changes that would normally ruffle our consumer feathers, e.g. additional onboard charges, and even slight reductions in levels of services onboard.

The lone problem I see in this attitude of acceptance I espouse is the question of whether the cruise lines will commit to reinstating the product we’ve come to expect when the seas smooth for the industry, or if they will accept the resulting changes as their normal business practice… which they did to some large degree after 9/11.

In just a few months Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas will debut as the largest cruise ship ever to leave a shipyard. She’ll be almost one half again the size of the next largest, and will likely also be the biggest news in the industry in a very long time. In close proximity to her debut, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Epic will also sail for the first time; debuting their next generation of ships designed to expand further on their “Freestyle Cruising” concept, and their new and different (perhaps controversial) “Wave“ cabins. Yet another new generation of ship will be introduced by Carnival when the Carnival Dream is inaugurated.

On the luxury cruise front – Seabourn Cruise Line will debut their first ever all balcony, all suites ship, moving away from the mega-yacht concept which has served them so well, and Silversea their newest and largest yet all-inclusive uber-luxury ship.

So, along with other new-builds sailing out of shipyards, there’s going to be an abundance of “newsy” and interesting things to watch for in the cruise industry.

In the summer of 2010 there’s going to be many more ships sailing in the Caribbean than has been the case for many years. That should result in lower than normal pricing in that area than we’ve seen for many summers. Yet, there’s some cause for concern there as well, when the industry foresees larger storms off their bow than facing the possibility of problems to face sailing many more ships in an area during traditional hurricane season.

As an “industry watcher” I most certainly see a lot to watch towards the end of 2009 and heading into 2010. As a cruise lover there’s no shortage of exciting developments on the horizon, but also concerns and questions.

As you look forward to the coming months and year, what are your thoughts, questions and concerns regarding the cruise industry? What are you looking forward to the most? What worries you the most about the direction of the industry?

- A View From the Kuki Side of Cruising -

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Comments

Comment from Paul Motter
Time May 20, 2009 at 2:11 pm

Kuki….

I think the cruise lines are currently cutting back because they have to as cruise fares go lower. However, I believe that as times get better they will reinstate some of the better perks in order to be more competitive.

For example, since I posted the cruise line loyalty reward programs I was told by Carnival and Holland America that they intend to review their programs and see how they can revive them. Frankly, they should.

Princess is VERY competitive to Holland America when it comes to loyalty, and it should be because it is a much better program. Therefore it is in the interest of HAL to make their program better. I believe they will, but now is not really the time to do that when everything is so price sensitive.

The day when cruisers no longer look at price first is the day when cruising will no longer feel like a nickel & diming (at times) experience.

Comment from bangituplainey
Time May 20, 2009 at 8:39 pm

I disagree with this Paul guy over here. Cruisers who are worried about price ARE the ones who get most nickel and dimed. I work in the industry, and I hate it when clients call in and all they ask over and over is, “what is the price what is the price”, not listening to a word about anything else. Princess IS one of the cruise lines that nickel and dime people the most, along with norwegian, and the two things those lines have most in common is… da da daaa… a lower starting price (not all the time i know, but a fair amount of the time yes). I always try to point out, the price isnt always most important. Caribbean cruises for example tend to have repeat ports; would you rather go on a cruise where two out of three stops you’ve already been to, or would you rather pay a hundred dollars more per person and get maybe three out of four stops you HAVENT been to. Also, so many people are choosing the 3 4 5 day cruises thinking its such a better eal. Why is it better, because your only making 1 maybe 2 stops, and if you make more stops than that, your at each portfor such a short period of time you can’t do much, and the menus arent as good and the onboard entertainment isnt either. So why not fork over another 5 or 6 hundred and make it worth it… This is the thing about cruising that aggravtes me. its NOT about the price, and if you get nabbed by a low price and then get nickel and dimed you deserve it

Comment from Older Party
Time May 21, 2009 at 11:00 am

I have to agree with Bangituplainey. I would much rather pay more money if I’m going to have longer time in ports, great menus and even greater entertainment. That’s my pet peeve, being in the entertainment industry, is the lack of information regarding the entertainment on the ships. I have been literally TROLLING every cruise line for a med cruise this July. While price point is a concern since I travel solo (which means interior rooms) that’s not all I’m looking for. It’s also not enough for people on these boards to say, “Oh, NCL does GREAT shows”, or “The ice shows on RCCL are fantastic”. I wish real critics would review the shows on ships and I wish those reviews would then be easy to come by instead of searching for hours on websites trying to glean ANY information at all.

But as to the original question, I’m not so sure perks will come back as being a business owner, it has been my experience that once your customer learns to live without a certain this or that, it is eventually forgotten therefore leaving no reason to re-instate the forgotten perk. I do think this will happen within the cruise industry. Besides, the entire world will come out of this economic slump with a completely different POV. New business plans/models are being implemented in order to deal with the present situation. Once they prove themselves to work effectively, why would any company go back to the outmoded methods that got them into the mess in the first place?

Comment from Paul Motter
Time May 21, 2009 at 1:21 pm

Older & Bangitup…

I suppose if anyone is able to review entertainment on cruise ships it is myself. Why? Because I worked in the entertainment industry for many years, including upon cruise ships as a stage manager.

I worked for Royal Viking Line (the original luxury line in 1983), NCL in 1992 and Holland America in 1993. Since 1999 I have been writing for CruiseMates and have been on most cruise lines.

In theater I worked as a stage manager, sound & likes twechnician, I can read, write and compose music and worked in Hollywood recording studios for many years.

I will tell you something funny, we just got news today that NCL Epic will feature Blue Man Group. I personally have been recommending to cruise lines that they should get Blue Man Group since I first saw the show in New York in 1993. They are now a huge Las Vegas act but I remember when they were a small off-Broadway show.

To me, THAT is the future of cruise ship shows, licensing successful shows. Oasis of the Seas will be featuring Hairspray, another first production on a cruise ship of a currently successful Broadway show.

For the record, NCL experimented with Broadway shows back in the early 90s, but they found the licensing to be too expensive.

While this is the future, the truth is that cruise ships have needed this coming change for decades. Why? The normal cruise show up until now has been a “revue” format that has not been questioned enough. The industry has been dominated by one-track minds who had thoughts on what people wanted for entertainment on cruise ships but really did not know.

It is similar to this, if you asked people what they want to see on TV many people might reply “variety shows like the Smothers Brothers, Carol Burnett or Dean Martin.” But they wouldn’t watch it or rate it highly if that is what you gave them.

The truth is “live” entertainment has never had such high expectation and low approval ratings in human history. Why? Because it is so hard to compete with movies and television.

One of my favorite activities on ships is watching recent movies. As far as live entertainment goes some of the best cruise ship entertainment I have ever seen is live rock and jazz bands.

I predict more licensed shows (Blue Man Group, Hairspray) are the future of ships. I predict you will see far more tribute shows (BeatleMania, Jimmy Buffett, Elvis), and I think you will start to see more cutting edge comedy and improv like Second City. (Which NCL has also already done).

What you will see less of, but is still too endemic is the standard revue show of singers and dancers doing “A Salute to Broadway [Hollywood, Gershwin, Beatles, etc.). That is the standard cruise show these days and they are long on nostalgia and short on talent. The formula of “costume change/dance steps… repeat adnauseum” has already lasted far too long.

Ships have beatutiful theaters but they do not make money from onboard entertainment and that is part of the problem. When they can figure out how to provide recurring theme cruises; jazz, Beatles, gospel, blues, folk music, etc… then entertainment will take a step forward.

The ultimate will come when someone finally builds a unique cruise show, similar to La Reve or a single name entertainer can now do in Vegas, and agrees to make any one cruise ship their own (and command a higher cruise fare for doing so).

For example – if a former winner (Adam?)from “American Idol” or a somewhat well-known but perhaps aging star decides he wants to settle down a little bit and create a unique cruise show – then we may be onto cruise ship entertainment that could really draw a crowd.

For example – what has Andreas Bocelli done since his one hit? He has a huge talent but probably not a big career. What if he built a cruise show around his one hit? He has a beautiful voice and a unique and memorable enough hit song that he would create a memorbake experience for cruisers. That is the key to successful cruise ship entertainment; when you finally have an act that people want to talk about when they get home.

I believe Blue Man Group will be a big hit, it is a very appealing show. I hope Hairspray on Oasis does just as well, but in fact the problem with Hairspray is that it is TOO much like a cruise-ship show already. What cruise lines need are departure shows, not more of the same. They need “Rent” or the “Producers,” not “Hairspray” in my opinion.

Royal Caribbean WILL have a hit with their waterstage show, and yes, their ICE shows are spectacular if you like ice shows (and lets face it, most people do).

Comment from jaxon
Time June 8, 2009 at 9:23 am

I would sure love to see a Bocelli show on ship — as for Blue Man, Hairspray, Producers, Rent, first run movies — not interested. It’s just me, but I have seen all of these on the stage, or in the case of movies, at the movies, when they first came out. I like Blue Man, and I do think it will be a hit, but after already seeing it several times, I wouldn’t book a cruise JUST to see it again.

I’ve been ok with the review format — depending on the strength of the voices, mainly. I would enjoy tribute shows, too.

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