One on One: Hapag-Lloyd Cruises' CEO on English-Speaking Market Growth

Europa 2, seen sailing from Kavala, Greece, in fall 2015, is increasingly attracting English-speaking guests. // Photo by Susan J. Young

The numbers say it all in terms of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ rapid-fire growth. Fifty percent of all clients who sail on the line's Europa 2 are new clients to the line, and 45 percent of those have never taken a cruise before.

In addition, the German line’s percentage of English-speaking international passengers, including those from the U.S., Canada, Australia and South Africa, has jumped 52 percent, and a whopping 230 percent for guests who've sailed on Europa 2, as reported by Travel Agent in February

Those numbers show just how much the cruise marketplace has shifted, and “why we’re well posititioned,” Karl Pojer, CEO, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, told Travel Agent recently in an interview at Fort Lauderdale, FL.

Tapping Into a Diversity Mindset  

karl pojer
Karl J. Pojer, CEO, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises

Pojer, who is also the new chairman of the German arm of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), describes Hapag-Lloyd Cruises' new guests and new-to-cruise guests as people who have perhaps traveled to resorts in the Maldives or the Bahamas but seek out Hapag-Lloyd because they want a luxury cruise with an international aura.

They also seek diversity in onboard programming, multiple restaurants and one-of-a-kind itinerary routes, including the Northeast Passage. 

Perhaps the strongest hook for attracting English-speaking guests, though, is the 500-passenger Europa 2, the line’s newest ship launched 2013. Designated and marketed as a bilingual English-German ship, Europa 2 has a crew that speaks both languages.

"We noticed that when the Americans are in port they are very interested to meet other people," Pojer says. "Let’s face it, most of the clients [both North Americans and international guests including German speakers] we have on the Europa 2 speak English.

Living room area of a Verandah Suite on Europa 2 // Photo by Susan J. Young

"Our crew is bilingual anyhow so from that side we have set up the base which is working well," he said. Onboard programming, dining menus, spa menus and other written communications are in both German and English. Shore trips are offered in English for a minimum of 15 guests who’ve booked from the ship.

Entertainment too has been adapted to serve both audiences; Travel Agent attended a show in the ship's theater last fall. The production incorporated both German and English, and the show seemed to work for both groups of guests. 

As for the ship itself, Europa 2 was refurbished last year, a short time-line for refurbishment of a new ship. Pojer says the dry dock created a ship better than when the line first took delivery of the ship.

“In general, we have had a good increase in the U.S. market,” Pojer says, citing sales and marketing work in North America and high ratings for Europa 2, in particular, from guidebook editors, which he says has drawn interest by Americans.

Europa 2 calls at many off-the-beaten-track ports. Kavala, Greece, is shown above. // Photo by Susan J. Young

How does Hapag-Lloyd Cruises compete with other luxury lines that are more well known to U.S. travelers?

The line's feedback has shown that high quality food and diversity of those choices is very important in the American market.

On feedback surveys, the guests also cite a desire to see something different and them multicultural experience. "They want to learn about German culture and they appreciate the variety," Pojer says.

Also important? "Attention to detail" and the onboard service is often cited by guests as important in their decision to book. They like the ability to personalize their vacation -- "individuality" as Pojer describes it. 

"These are very experienced clients," he says. "They’ve traveled a lot on other ships, they know what they want and they know what they don’t want anymore."

They also want to go places they haven't been. "We want to go to ports the big ones haven’t been going to or can't go into [for port calls]," Pojer stresses. 

For example, the line calls at many remote ports in Greece that bigger ships can't and don't visit. "We have 22 new ports for Europa 2 this year, and 35 on Europa," Pojer adds. 

But how can the line effectively compete with more well-known luxury cruise products, such as Regent Seven Seas or Silversea, for example? To Pojer, another differentiator for Europa 2 is its focus on kids, something other luxury lines haven't typically done. 

Its family apartments feature a separate bedroom for kids with beds, toys, games and even a kid-friendly bathroom. Europa 2 also has three children's club programs for the youngest kids 2 to 4, for older children and for teens. 

"We've been very successful selling for families and Europa 2 is the first ship in the world for the luxury market to feature accommodations for kids," he says.

Agents can read about our cruise on Europa 2 in Greece last year here.

A Bit Different Approach

German guests typically prefer to buy the basic cruise fare and then pay extra for other things, so they can pick and choose where to spend their vacation dollars. American luxury lines have, alternatively, embraced the all-inclusive model. 

The German guests say, "'we want to invite our friends, we want to choose, we want to do this, this, this and this,'"Pojer says. "Our guests seek that 'balanced high quality level' of food and beverage," he says. So Europa 2, for example, has the largest gin collection in the world on a ship. 

"Our ships we do not have all-inclusive because we do not believe in it, but you can buy the best wines on our ship and for a price you will never get in any restaurant anywhere in the world," Pojer adds. The line's philosophy is to serve high-quality cuisine, and make it possible for guests to buy the best possible wine with it. 

That said, Pojer "gets" that the U.S. market has different desires, and points to the inclusive beverage package it's added. The line has also offered onboard credits for North American bookings, allowing guests to individualize their vacation. 

"Nevertheless, we have adjusted as we know some in the American market want that," he says. Apparently, offering two philosophies for different markets is working. The line has a 67 percent repeat rate.

In addition, more than 98.6 percent of guests who've sailed say they'd recommend their cruise experience to a friend, family member or others. Pojer cites a guest satisfaction rating from past guests of 98.2 percent. Attending his first Seatrade conference in South Florida earlier this year, Pojer is clearly making a bigger push for Hapag-Lloyd Cruises to gain traction in the U.S. market.

He acknowledges being a bit surprised at the reaction from his recent foray to North America: "I had not expected this huge interest in our group and our brand, and also not that the development is steadily growing," he says, noting he's soaking in the feedback for the future. 


Read more on:

Suggested Articles:

Military veterans and community heroes can enter to win a free work-from-home travel agency franchise from Dream Vacations. Learn more here.

MMGY Global says domestic travel safety scores low at 34 and international travel scores even lower at 22 (0 being least safe; 100 being safest).

Virgin Voyages' inaugural sailing is now scheduled for October 16 with new health and safety measures. Here's what you need to know.