More right-sized capacity in the industry allowed lines to begin to raise pricing and offer value-adds -- rather than discount late in the game -- to fill staterooms. // Photo courtesy of Port Everglades
Travel Agent looked at our annual website statistics from readers and also talked with industry experts about the biggest cruise stories of the year. What was hot? What was tops? What did online statistics show?
Some answers were predictable, others more surprising. Here’s a look at our Top 10 Cruise "Threads" for 2015.
Throughout the year, the rise of value-added bundling -- items added into commissionable cruise fares, rather than discounting to fill ships -- was a top development. Multiple stories, month after month, focused on this topic. As cruise lines moved current or future tonnage to China, they evened out supply and demand, allowing them to begin to increase cruise fares. And then they added in more "value" for those increased fares.
“The biggest development in the cruise industry in 2015, is a changing pricing model – call it ‘bundling’ if you will,” says John Lovell, president, Travel Leaders Franchise Group, Leisure Group and Vacation.com. “Like airlines, the cruise lines bundle many of their ancillary offerings, such as dining packages, drinks packages, Internet packages, spa packages and so on. Not only do they charge for these bundles for added revenue but they also utilize bundling as a mechanism to maintain higher cruise fare ADR (average daily rate)."
Lovell says this can be traced back to Celebrity Cruises' “game-changing 123 GO campaign that kicked off in 2014. However, 2015 saw every cruise line adopt some form of this new model.” He says many bundled products are resulting in higher commission for agencies.
A New Cruise Line
Nothing like the launch of a new line tweaks the attention of cruise selling agents, especially when it comes from a veteran river line. This year, agents watched the debut of Viking Ocean Cruises. Travel Agent was onboard when the line’s first ship, the 930-passenger Viking Star, sailed from Lisbon to Southampton prior to its christening.
|The new Viking Star, the first vessel of Viking Ocean Cruises, made its first ever call at Honfleur, France, during its 2015 inaugural season. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
In fact, many of our most-popular online stories this year focused on this new mid-sized ocean ship that features a multi-deck Living Room, an Infinity Pool, a spa with a Snow Room, and, to the delight of agents, a “no NCFs” policy. Among the top stories of the year were our original “Cruise Ship Tour: The Viking Star” and our photo look at the ship’s spa.
New Ships Create Marketplace Buzz
All stories about new ships drew agent interest this year, among them “Royal Caribbean's 2016-2017 Caribbean Season Spotlights New Quantum, Oasis Ships.” Agents seemingly couldn't get enough of coverage for the new Norwegian Escape and Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas, among other new builds.
Amber Cove, the Newest Private-Island Experience
Cruisers absolutely bask in private island experiences in the Caribbean or the Bahamas. Some private islands are so popular that cruise lines -- at times -- build itineraries that feature two private island calls on a week-long Caribbean cruise.
The newest “experience” that opened in fall 2015 is Amber Cove, a Dominican Republic private island experience. Senior editor Joe Pike visited earlier in the year on a preview tour; click to read his initial report. Today, the island is welcoming a slew of Carnival and other lines' ships. Carnival Corporation’s official site page for the new destination can provide the latest details.
Crime and Bad Weather
Yes, much as with mainstream media, we've discovered that negative events attract strong reader attention. One of the most highly read stories of the year was “Apparent Murder-Suicide Occurs on Holland America Ship from Tampa. Among the top "bad weather" stories this year were: “Hurricane Patricia Update: Airports Close, Cruise Lines Alter Schedules,” “Low Water on Elbe and Danube Cancels a Few Viking and Uniworld Sailings” and "Halong Bay Flooding Causes Deaths, Cancels Cruises."
|Crystal Celeystal is a small ship that sails around Cuba. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
The Two "Cs" - China and Cuba
At a recent CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. conference on Norwegian Escape, Andy Stuart, president and CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line, talked about the “abCs.” He said the lower case “a” and “b” stood for “nothing” but the capital “C” was the point of emphasis -- meaning Cuba and China.
Throughout the year, Cuba was top of mind, with cruise executives addressing the island nation's tourism potential at Cruise Shipping Miami in Miami Beach. On August 10, Travel Agent showcased feedback from agents and trade executives in a Cuba cruising potential story.
Carnival Corporation’s new voluntourism brand, fathom, also launches this coming spring on voyages to both the Dominican Republic and Cuba. Small ship line Celeystal Cruises is also starting another season of Cuba sailings this winter; such tour operators as Central Holidays are also using that line's ships for "people to people" exchange itineraries around the island.
Throughout the year, cruise lines continued to allocate ships for Chinese sourcing, and cruise industry analyst Robin Farley, UBS Investment Research, told investors that Royal Caribbean International’s Quantum of the Seas, now sailing year-round from Shanghai, is selling for 35 percent higher than it was selling in the Caribbean earlier this year.
In the past few months, Carnival Corporation said it will launch a domestic Chinese brand and Carnival Cruise Lines said it will send two ships to China. Norwegian Cruise Line plans to enter with a Breakaway-Plus class vessel, and MSC’s Lirica will home port in China in 2016, among other moves. Royal Caribbean will have multiple vessels in China as well.
New Faces at the Helm
During 2015, several major cruise lines named new presidents including Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line and others. Just a year ago, Christine Duffy, formerly CLIA's president, also took the helm of Carnival Cruise Line.
Not surprisingly, one of our most-read stories of the year was a one-on-one "Conversation With Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, Celebrity Cruises' New President” who explained her vision and plans for the premium cruise line.
|Highly read was our one-on-one interview with Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, the new president of Celebrity Cruises. // Photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises|
Across the Globe: New Destinations
As the international cruise fleet expands and itineraries head for more far-flung destinations, agents eagerly soaked up the latest developments in itinerary announcements. Exotic options ranked high on the "most read" list. One top story this year was our “Princess Cruises' 2016 Europe Schedule Returns to Canary Islands.”
Crystal Cruises' New Owner and Growth Plans
While the luxury segment has experienced strong growth in recent years, Crystal Cruises, always a popular choice with luxury travelers, had been very conservative with fleet growth. That was before 2015.
|As part of its expansion, Crystal is launching a new luxury air brand. // Photo courtesy of Crystal Cruises|
After a sale to Genting Hong Kong, it was clear the "new Crystal" would be more aggressive and expand from a well-respected luxury cruise brand into a high-growth, more robust luxury lifestyle brand. Crystal is planning to sail the globe via ocean ships including new several new builds, as well as launch a new river cruise line, a mega-yacht ocean brand and even a luxury airline product. You can read our July 2015 announcement story here.
During 2015, the line acquired the former Mozart and will launch river cruises this spring with that updated vessel. It's also building four more new river vessels for a 2017 launch. And the line has indicated more is yet to come.
Water, Water Everywhere
Yes, sometimes the simplest things can be the most contentious. The price of bottled water aboard cruise ships has prompted consumers to "carry on" their own cases of bottled water for years. But in 2015, some lines moved to stem that. Highly read by our readers was “Carnival Bans Bringing Bottled Water Onboard." The line has subsequently tweaked the policy a bit more.
As cruise selling agents, head into 2016, we can't wait to see what new stories develop. What do you think is ahead for the cruise industry? Give us your thoughts on our Facebook page and in the comments below.