Andy Harmer hosted a CLIA event in Dublin with the Irish travel trade attending a dinner with speeches from AE Expeditions, Azamara, APT Travelmarvel, Celebrity Cruises, MSC Cruises, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean International. Andy thanked the audience for giving up their Tuesday for the CLIA event. Andy shared “cruises have never offered such a wide variety of products and that’s one of the reasons why cruise continues to be the best place for us to invest our time energy and learning about perception”.
CLIA & Cruise
Andy explained, in terms of the cruise figures from Ireland for the initial half of 2023 (January through to June 6th) that Irish cruise volumes in terms of people travelling have returned to pre-pandemic levels (2019). He emphasised that this “says a lot about the support we’ve had for my travel agent partners in Ireland so thank you for getting us back up to those levels. We’ll see what the second half of the year holds for us and will be able to reveal those numbers in the second half of 2024”.
“Thank you for supporting the cruise sector so brilliantly, over the past couple of years… From a CLIA perspective we have continued, of course, to work with the UK government when we can, to create a sustainable platform for cruise growth and then from a trade perspective, we have added a record number of resources and learning and event opportunities than ever before.”
In comparison, CLIA held 6 webinars in 2020, this year, the organisation held an impressive 89 different webinars.
“We Cruise Together”
The new slogan for CLIA members is “We Cruise Together” revealed Andy. Providing the rationale, he elaborated: “Firstly, because we are bringing together all sectors of the cruise industry and working together: So that’s expedition, that’s ultra-luxury, that’s yachts, that sails, that’s mainstream, that’s big ship, that’s small ship, that’s everything in between so that’s what one of the reasons why we’ve chosen, we cruise together. The other reason is we wouldn’t be a successful industry without our travel agent partners supporting us. So you’ll see we cruise together as we go through 2024”.
What’s New for the New Year – 2024
Diplomatically, Andy invited the speakers in alphabetical order – I’ll follow suit:
AE Expeditions (aka Aurora Expeditions)
AE Expeditions officially launched into Ireland on 5th December. You may know AE Expeditions as Aurora Expeditions and their main focus is cruises around Antarctica, the Arctic and Patagonia.
“We are a true polar expedition specialist. We’ve been going for 32 years. We were founded by an amazing gentleman called Greg Mortimer who is the first Australian to climb Mount Everest and K2 Mountains and he did it without oxygen… We’ve got expedition in our heart and we believe in what we do.”
They have 2 purpose-built ice-breaker ships that are currently in Antarctica right now. They have 132 passengers on board and are described as “beautiful, casual, luxury ships”. As an Australian company, it’s first name basis, t-shirts and jeans in a relaxing bar (sounds wonderful). They take the spirit of the expedition seriously with a broad range of adventures to offer guests and put the destination rather than the ship first. This is about experiencing a polar adventure.
They are an agricultural, sustainable, responsible company and have been climate-neutral for many years. Currently, in terms of the ships in Antarctica, c.80% of food is sourced from Argentina.
They are in the final stages of B Corp certification, which is all about putting people over profit, meeting high standards of verified performance, focusing on accountability, and transparency on factors from employee benefits and charitable giving to supply chain practices and input materials.
AE Expeditions’ 2025 Arctic Program has just launched with itineraries including Greenland, Iceland, Svalbard and the Northwest Passage as well as Antarctica. Explaining that their cruises are like a “safari in the cold”, meaning potential customers can come from the Adventure market as well as the cruise market.
Interestingly the average age is in the fifties (ranging c.45-85) though this tends towards a younger demographic for Antarctica versus their Arctic cruise itineraries.
Maximum capacity is 132 passengers which is also ideal for solo travellers. This is coupled with no set dining so passengers can mingle. Solo cabins have a 50% supplement or there is a cabin finder service where they can pair passengers (e.g. same-sex/similar age) and match them together.
David Duff (Azamara & member of the CLIA Executive Committee) explained there are “Big ambitions for the brand and I hope you’ll see a lot more about that in 2024”. He detailed that the brand has had a fantastic year in terms of sales and really grown in the UK and the European markets.
In January 2021, Azamara was sold to Sycamore Partners, a private equity group that quickly announced it had purchased Pacific Princess from Princess Cruises and would be adding the ship to the Azamara fleet. Pacific Princess, now renamed Azamara Onward, also is a former R-class ship
The internal restructuring from the change in investors is not going to impact customers as the focus is, first and foremost on the destination and the onboard experience. Remember, the team in the UK is there to support the UK and Irish markets. David advised attendees to keep an eye out for big announcements with the Azamara brand in 2024 as they continue on their path for further growth.
Dondra Ritzenthaler has recently been named chief executive of Azamara. She hails from Celebrity Cruises where she was Senior Vice President of Sales, Trade Support and Service. She will take up the position in May 2024.
APT & Travelmarvel
Elaine (APT & Travelmarvel) shared that Travelmarvel, a 4-star river cruise brand owned by parent, APT which is an Australian company. In fact, 95% of clients are Australian.
Travelmarvel has three beautiful sister ships that sail on the Rhine and Danube. Built in 2021 and launched in 2022, these are new ships designed purposely for the Euorpean waterways. There’s even an Irish bar on board, the only one on a rivercruise and, speaking from experience, it does a decent pint. The bar offers lunch and dinner as an alternative to main dining.
APT also have a beautiful yacht that sails the Croatian costline, the Princess Eleganza and holds just 36 passengers in 19 cabins onboard. Elaine shares that she is poluar for anniversaries and retirement parties and this was her first season in the Irish market.
APT and Travelmarvel will have a new launch next year with the introduction of Duro Discovery which will journey from Porto to Porto in Lisbon on 7-night sailings from 2024.
In terms of selling river cruise, Elaine explains, “it’s like a city break but being able to take your hotel along with you”. Customers are seeing more experiences, sight-seeing and tours and this is driving up the demand for the niche market of river cruise. There is growth in the market and still significant potential.
Jeff Collins (Best4Travel) added from the audience, that he had brought 16 managers for a management conference onboard one of Travelmarvel’s river cruise ships and highly commended the trip, the ship and service, in his own words, “absolutely excellent”.
For more on Travelmarvel, check out ITTN coverage from the 2-night fam in 2023:
- Onboard Travelmarvel’s Capella
- Amsterdam to Cologne by River Cruise with Travelmarvel
- Watch the ITTN interview with David Cox (CEO of APT & Travelmarvel)
Valerie Murphcy introduced Celebrity Cruises’ new MD & VP of UK & EMEA, Giles Hawkes. Valerie thanked the trade for their support and advised that “We have had phenomenal year this year. 2019 was our best year ever. This year, we have seen doubled into growth on 2019, and it has just been superb and we couldn’t do it without all our trade partners.
Fresh off the launch of the naming ceremony of Celebrity Ascent, the fourth in the Celebrity Edge series. She is similar to Celebrity Beyond and she is stunning. ITTN were also onboard so to get a sneak peak of what she looks like and what she offers travellers, check out our feature:
Currently sailing the Caribbean, Celebrity Ascent will offer itineraries in Europe in 2024. In fact Celebrity Cruises will have 6 ships sailing in Europe in 2024 including Celebrity Apex, another of the Edge Series ships, which will be porting in Southampton. Offering Northern Europe, Arctic and Scandinavian itineraries meeting customer demand for this region.
The fifth in the Edge Series and soon to be the next addition to the Celebrity Cruises’ fleet, Celebrity Xcel arrives in 2024. She will be sailing the Caribean in 2025.
New for 2024, sister-company, Royal Caribbean International (Celebrity Cruises and RCI are both owned by Royal Caribbean Group) are lending their private island, Perfect Day at Cococay located in the Bahamas. Both Celebrity Beyond (Edge Series) and Celebrity Reflection will have itineraries that include visits to RCI’s “Thrill & Chill” island in the Caribbean.
Andy asks Valerie for the drivers of Celebrity Cruises’ growth in the Irish market. The audience answers for her and explains it’s due to Valerie (who recently won Strategic Account Manager of the Year for the UK & Ireland 2023 at Celebrity Cruises Global Sales Conference 2023 and Ireland’s Worldchoice Trade Partner of the Year 2023).
Valerie tried to inteject with the rationale that Celebrity Cruises have great products, pricing, flights and strong underlying market demand for outbound travel which, combined with strong relationships with and support from our trade partners meant it all aligned for delivering growth.
Giles Hawke – Celebrity Cruises
Giles Hawke shared, “I join the business three months ago and I think I’m fortunate enough to have landed probably the best job in the travel industry. I’m absolutely delighted to join the company. I have sailed, since I started three months ago, on Equinox, Summit… [and] Ascent. The ships are stunning. Even the older ships look like they are brand new. The quality of the product and the quality of the service is exceptional.
On Ascent there are new spaces such as the Annexe, which you customers can rent. This can cater for groups up to 16 for periods of up to 2 1/2 hours. This private space offers movies, Kareoke and games. There’s a golf driving game (though given my dislike of golf, the video game version upstairs in the club is lots of fun, along with a fuse ball table, Pac-Man and the likes).
Giles continued, “the shows on Ascent are absolutely spectacular. There are three new shows and having seen Awaken and Bridges, these were both astounding in terms of visual effects, background setting, stage, lighting, sound quality and then you have the exceptional performers – the singers, dancers, acrobatic performers which are captivating and the choice of music covering classics, contemporary, pop, alternative and everything in between all seamlessly intertwined for an immersive hour of jaw-dropping entertainment.
Giles explained, Celebrity Cruises recruit from the same sources as Cirque du Soleil which gives you an inkling of the quality and calibre. He adds, “They are top, world-class performers… they work with the likes of Lady Gaga, they work with Coldplay…”.
Giles shared that Laura Hodges Bethge (President of Celebrity Cruises) wants Celebrity Cruises “to own the evening at sea and shore”. To be honest, with Celebrity Ascent, they are already there. The Shine Party on the resort deck offers a spectacular party with lights, sound, djs and dancing till the wee hours of the morning (top tip is to bring sequins, sparkles, something metallic or a fellow cruiser’s suggestion of wrapping himself up in tin foil would work!).
In fact, Giles explained that there are plans for the “Shine Party” on the resort deck will be retro fit on the top deck of many more of the Celebrity Cruise ships, so forget star-gazing, this is disco dancing in all its glistening glory.
Answering Andy’s question as to why he wanted to work for Celebrity Cruise, he highlighted how it is different to any other cruise line, the quality of the product, the focus on trade partners and giving customers the best holiday.
The only downside to Celebrity Ascent was it was 2-nights so take as long an itinerary as you can. Rest up beforehand because you won’t want to sleep, there’s so much to do and you’ll want to do it more than once, twice or even thrice.
Suzanne Rowe (MSC Cruises) highlighted the 23 ships they have on sale at the moment with 14 of which in the Mediterranean. This is soon to be 25 with launches in 2025 and 2026. Also part of the MSC family is Explora Journeys – find out more with ITTN’s features on Explora from 2023:
- Onboard Explora Journeys
- Culinary & Beverage Offering onboard Explora Journeys
- Suites onboard Explora Journeys
Suzanne detailed the hundreds of fights available in the system for the very popular fly-cruise offering. Highlighting the value with MSC cruises, particularly for families, Suzanne detailed that children from 0-2 years of age travel gree. Children’s prices are right up to the ages of 17 which is quite exceptional and will certainly appeal to those of us with more than 2 kids.
Gratuities and port taxes are included in MSC pricing and their WAVE campaign will be starting in the month of December. An MSC drinks package will be included so keep an eye out for that.
Suzanne, onbehalf of her team and everyone at MSC, sincerely thanked each and everyone in the audience for their support during the year and wished everyone happy sales for 2024.
When asked by Andy about Explora, Suzanne explained “it’s absolutely magnificent, it’s very contemporary, it’s very high-end, ultra-chic [and] the most extaordinary thing was the food”.
Explora Journeys offers exceptional food for the 900 guests so it is a much more intimate experience compared with what you would expect from a MSC ship. Suzanne shares “we don’t go Barcelona – Barcelona, she travels to explore, she’s on a worldwide cruise… and she is the first of 6 ships”.
Rebecca Kelly (Princess Cruises) highlighted, “For princess, we’ve had an absolutely phenomenal year…”. She highlighted that they away 35 free cabins and got 35 agents on their ships on their own family holiday to really experience the ship. Over the last year, they have had over 300 people from travel centres and travel agents on board, and their families, right across Dublin, Cork and Belfast to enjoy the product themselves. In addition, they have run 5 fam trips to showcase the Princess brand.
Princess Cruises have the Sun Princess in the Mediteranean. She sets sail in February 2024 and has 2,150 guest cabins with 1,500 balconies and a capacity for 4,300 guests and offer 29 bars and restuarants. Star Princess will also join the fleet in 2024 and will have the same number of cabins and capacity as Sun Princess. Both the Sun Princess and Star Princess will sail the Mediterranean in 2025.
Rebecca emphasised to the audience, that travel agents can support and drive the growth by considering the new-to-cruise, not just the c.45,000 Irish that do cruise but those that have yet to cruise.
Answereing Andy’s query on Alaska, Rebecca highlighted Princess is number one in the world for the destination. They have ships on the west coast of the USA visiting San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver. Equally, if you want to stay on land in Alaska, it’s Princess Cruises has her Princess Lodges.
Nick Huges – Princess Cruises
Nick detailed that by the end of 2026, there will be c.26 new ships operating globally, “As Rebecca eluded to, it’s not about us taking [market share from other cruise lines],it’s about us, other cruise lines, cruise agents and tour operators where we get this next generation of cruises from because the capacity is going to continue to grow but we need to get new cruise customers into the market, show the incredible value that each and every cruise line around the table actually offers”.
Royal Caribbean International
Jennifer Callister, a veteran of Royal Caribbean of 11 years, shared that she originally worked for both Celebrity Cruises and Azamara (this is a very small industry). She continued: “There is massive growth here in this in this country and I think this probably 50,000 people take cruises which is nothing when you look at the whole size of Ireland”
Speaking from the recent travel conferences, she reminded the audience that there is 135 billion worth of savings in Ireland at the moment so there is enough for all cuise lines to grow their brands.
2024 will be an exciting year for Royal Caribbean with the launch of Icon of the Seas early in the year and she is a band new class of ship, the first in 10 years. Her first sailing is 27th January from Miami doing 7-night East to West Caribbean itineraries and all the itineraries will be visiting Perfect Day at Cococay, RCI’s private island in the Bahamas.
Star of the Sea went onsale this week and she will be offering Orlando itineraries sailing 7-nights in the Caribbean from 25th July.
Icon of the Seas will offer 20 decks, more than any other RCI ship. She will have 2,800 staterooms onboard for c.7,500 passengers. She will have eight neighbourhoods with some familiar neighbourhoods plus new ones such as Thrill Island and Chill Island, inspired by Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas, CocoaCay which has both Thrill and Chill zones.
Also in 2024, Utopia of the Seas will join the fleet in summer 2024. She’s the sixth Oasis Class ship and will be based in Port Canaveral and will offer 3- and 4-night short cruises sailing West and East Caribbean itineraries including Perfect Day at Cococay visits. She has 18 decks and caters for just shy of 6,000 guests.