More UK cruise passengers than ever before, but numbers will fall this year

//More UK cruise passengers than ever before, but numbers will fall this year

Prepare for the unthinkable. After decades of rapid year-on-year growth, the number of Britons taking a cruise could fall this year.
It’s not something the industry is shouting about; the Cruise Lines International Association has forecast that final figures will show a record 1.79 million British holidaymakers took a cruise in 2013, up 89,000 on 2012.
There were 5 per cent more UK passengers on ocean cruises year-on-year and the number has increased by 21 per cent since 2008.
But I believe a decrease in 2014 is a real possibility. Capacity will reduce and the number of berths available each week will be cut.
Independence of the Seas, which has operated year-round from Southampton, is sailing elsewhere this winter.
Over-50s specialist Saga has pensioned off the popular Saga Ruby; it has been replaced by Saga Pearl II, but that has meant the disappearance of the Spirit of Adventure brand.
Lines such as Fred Olsen and Thomson, which not very long ago were taking over ships passed on by other companies, have not added to their fleets for some years.
Carnival Cruises will not have any of its ships in Europe this summer, and rivals such as Princess and Royal Caribbean will have fewer vessels over here than in 2013.
The UK has hosted a succession of high-profile ship launches in recent years, The Queen naming Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth and a heavily-pregnant Kate Middleton doing the honours for Royal Princess among them. The whole industry benefitted from the publicity they generated, but there are no lavish ceremonies in the calendar for 2014.
Norwegian Getaway made a brief visit to Southampton this week en route to America and a temporary guest role providing accommodation for the Super Bowl, but Regal Princess is likely to be launched in Venice, Costa Diadema possibly in Barcelona, and November newcomer Quantum of the Seas in New York.
Secretly, the cruise operators may actually welcome the fall in numbers if it means supply comes closer to matching demand and they will not have to engage in ferocious last-minute discounting in order to fill their ships.
We may have seen the last of the bargain-basement deals that were offering a week in the Norwegian fjords or 10 days in the Mediterranean for less than £50 a night – with all meals and entertainment included.
The lines are still desperate to attract new, younger customers. Last year just over a third were taking a holiday at sea for the first time but despite all the efforts to appeal to families with children, the average age of cruise passengers has gone up from 54.8 to just over 56 in the past 10 years.
Those who have become hooked on cruising know that, with average fares 22 per cent lower than five years ago, they are on to a good thing. More than half realise there is no better value available for holidays anywhere, and take two or more cruises a year.
There’s a positive note in the continued growth in the popularity of river cruising, especially in Europe, but that is a sector that appeals almost entirely to retired couples; there are precious few family groups travelling along the Rhine or the Danube.
The upward trend in passenger numbers on ocean-going ships is bound to return in 2015; of that there can be little doubt.
P&O’s Britannia, with a capacity of 3,611 the largest ship to be built for the British market, and Royal Caribbean’s even larger Anthem of the Seas, at 4,180, will launch the Battle of Southampton as they compete to fill their cabins.
Few details have yet emerged of what Britannia passengers can expect – P&O are planning a major announcement on February 12.
Anthem will follow sister ship Quantum in having novelty experiences such as a sky-diving simulator, the North Star observation pod – looking like an escapee from the London Eye – and dodgem cars.
All of which would be anathema to Fred Olsen’s Nathan Philpot, who is convinced the way to filling his ships is by appealing to the traditional grey market that other companies seem determined to ignore.
But there will be more gimmicks to come as the cruise lines pursue their family fantasies – you can bet your life jacket on it.

By | 2014-01-17T13:46:56+00:00 17 January 2014|Cruise News|0 Comments

About the Author:

John Honeywell is a travel writer specialising in cruise ships and cruise travel. Winner of CLIA UK's Contribution to Cruise award 2017.

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