Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cruise industry in tune with consumer demands

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As I have been researching wide-ranging sources to find answers for reader questions relating to cruise vacations, I came to realize how much the industry is going through an evolutionary period.

The major cruise lines of the world are very much in touch with consumer desires through their own extensive studies of customer preferences and market shifts. Perhaps like no other tourism sector, they measure likes and dislikes and seem prepared to create the shifts that will keep this ever-expanding industry on its growth trajectory.

In this week's column, and next week's as well, I will try to provide an overview of what we can expect from cruise lines over the coming years.

More big ships are coming

Royal Caribbean, with its Oasis class vessels, has set the standard. They have found immense success in tapping a market where the sum total of on-board cruise experiences are, for many, subjugating the desire to see destination attractions.

As a result, Royal Caribbean will welcome two more mega-ships built on the same blueprint of the Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, to be launched in 2016 and 2018, respectively.

Officials say the new ships will be more fuel efficient than the original two, a feature all new ships of every brand are aiming for.

In the meantime, Viking Cruises, which gained attention around the world by christening 16 new river boats at the same time this year, has carved their brand in the consumer mind as the leading river cruise company.

But Viking also has entered the ocean ship market with its first vessel, the Viking Star, to be launched next year, with two more to follow in 2016.

It's an indication the major river cruise lines are not satisfied with the limited numbers of small ship passengers that can be served on the rivers of the world.

Even on river ships, the trend is to offer more

While people have liked the complementary shore excursions, most of these are walking tours of the 'port' city or short visits to the surrounding locales.

More tours are being packaged, which the passengers will have to purchase separately from the complementary series.

To date, river cruise ships tend to be carbon copies of each other

Companies are recognizing consumer brand loyalty comes from the commitment to service, not necessarily in the boat's blueprint. As a result, new ships are being planned with different configurations.

With only one dining room available on most river cruise boats, outside casual dining options are being created on upper and new outer decks.

One ship actually has built a form of pop-up restaurant on the upper deck that can be raised and lowered to accommodate passage under bridges.

Cabin sizes are changing

In the early days, when river cruising was just being discovered, cabins tended to be of the one-size-fits-all category.

While most of the days are spent on shore, and evenings in the dining room and bar, significant numbers of clients would still be willing to pay for more spacious accommodations.

The cruise companies hoped french veranda's and small extended balconies would address those wishes, but a potentially profitable market segment still demanded something closer to cabins offered on ocean ships.

As a result, ships that accommodate fewer passengers willing to pay more for the extra comfort have already been introduced, with more to follow.

All-inclusive river cruises

The concept of the all-inclusive land resort has become the norm for most sun destinations. Consumers like not having to dig in their pockets or be surprised the end of a voyage at how much their beverage chits have added up to during their trips.

Following the all-inclusive plans of land-based resorts, a number of lines, including Scenic Cruises, already offer the same alternative on their ships.

Ocean cruise lines are discovering new markets

It is Royal Caribbean's newest ship. The Quantum of the Seas is the pride of the fleet. But if you want to try it out for size you will have to begin or end your cruise in Shanghai.

While this is done recognizing the interest the cruise market has in discovering the region, placing the Quantum there on a year-round deployment is part of a bigger marketing plan for the company.

While much of China's population is still very poor, there is a large and growing wealthy class cruise lines are ready to capture.

A recent article pointed out over the past few years the economy in China has grown at a faster rate than the combined growth of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Canada has emerged as a significant cruise destination

Quebec City continues to rate among the highest by passengers who have experienced this port stop.

But it is not alone.

Halifax, too, has carved a reputation as a dominant player. This year, close to 140 cruise stops are planned for the Port of Halifax.

On Oct. 7, five ships will be anchored and more than 9,000 visitors will flood this relatively small city to visit the city and featured sites such as the Titanic Graveyard and Peggy's Cove.

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com.Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found at www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 31, 2014 E2

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