Cruise analysis - how the luxury sector continues to boom
Almost 18 months ago, Larry Pimentel, president and chief executive of Azamara Club Cruises, admitted to Clia Conference delegates in Southampton that he was nervous about growth in the luxury cruise sector.
Crystal Cruises had recently announced aggressive expansion plans when Pimentel told agents it was “too much, too fast”. He claimed prices would suffer as a result of expansion the industry wasn’t ready for.
So, when Azamara announced two months ago that it had acquired a new ship, it was a clear indication that changes were afoot at the high end of the market.
News of the acquisition of Azamara Pursuit (currently sailing for P&O Cruises as Adonia) came after Silversea Cruises announced it was to add two more vessels, with an option for a third, and a day after Cunard announced the order of its fourth ship – its first new vessel in 12 years.
The tide has turned.
Other travel brands are taking note of the success of the luxury sector. High-end hotel brand The Ritz-Carlton, for example, is plotting three super-yachts (pictured below) And Virgin Voyages has begun construction of its fleet.
Why the sudden boom in ship orders? Quite simply, the luxury market is performing well. Silversea owner Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio said his bold three-ship order reflected a buoyant market.
ON THE UP
Figures from Clia support his sentiments. Aside from a brief hiatus in 2014 and 2015, when figures dipped slightly, the number of Brits taking ‘ultra-luxury’ cruises has grown. There hasn’t been a dramatic hike in numbers, but a gradual rise saw ultra-luxury cruises attract 10,000 more Brits in 2016 than a decade ago, at 28,887 passengers – and up from 26,602 in 2015.
Luxury cruise specialists are seeing a similar boom in booking figures.
Scott Anderson, general manager at The Luxury Cruise Company, said bookings were up 9% year on year, and the value of bookings had grown by 37%. He attributed this to clients booking higher grades of suites, longer cruises and more expedition voyages, which have a higher price tag.
“Recent ship launches such as Silver Muse and Seven Seas Explorer have really helped with growing public interest in the luxury market,” he said.
“Silver Cloud moving to Silversea Expeditions has also increased the awareness and ship quality in that area.”
Anderson said expedition cruising was an exciting part of the sector, and important to future growth as more affluent clients look for “the next ‘new’ destination”.
There is no doubt that new and innovative ships will provide a big boost to the sector, but agents hope new brands such as The Ritz-Carlton and Virgin Voyages will propel the industry further by attracting new-to-cruise clients through the press coverage both brands should receive ahead of launch.
Stefan Shillito, managing director at The Sovereign Cruise Club, described the ocean sector as at “its most buoyant ever”.
He added: “The unprecedented number of new ships entering service or under construction, combined with companies such as Scenic and Ritz-Carlton entering the market, make for a very exciting time and a period of huge growth for us all.” Clia’s UK boss Andy Harmer said the growth is down to the sector knowing that clients are always “looking for something more and different”.
He also praised the trade for educating themselves through developments and innovations such as Scenic Eclipse, which will feature helicopters and submarines when it launches next year.
Harmer said: “Alongside these changes has been the travel agent community, supported by cruise lines and Clia, who have focused on understanding all aspects of the experience, the destinations featured and who their luxury buyers are.”