Will U.K. Cruisers Double in a Decade?

March 2, 2010
(10 a.m. EST) -- If you haven't yet tried a cruise, know this: The number of Brits going on cruises will almost double by 2020 from 1.65 million to three million cruisers. The prediction was made last night at the launch of Carnival UK's 2010 Cruise Report.

The report, in its fifth year, provides an analysis of UK cruise statistics relating to the eight Carnival UK brands: Cunard, Princess Cruises, P&O Cruises, Ocean Village, Costa Cruises, Seabourn, Holland America and Carnival Cruise Lines itself.

What will encourage double growth in the cruise market, says Carnival Corporation chairman and CEO Micky Arison in the report, is a change in cruise styles. Itinerary choices will be more varied than ever, and you can expect to see more mini-break-type voyages of three nights or less.

He also notes that higher quality ships, with more activities, restaurants and recreational options, will fuel the growth. "There are very few short cruises in the UK right now," he said in the report. "But this will change over time because the higher quality ships with their greater range of facilities being built and operated these days will act as interesting destinations in themselves."

But if the UK cruise industry has got to entice an extra 1.35 million travellers to cruise over the next decade, how are the cruise lines going to make it happen? Carnival's market share in the UK is around 35 percent, which means it alone has to bring in an additional 472,500 British passengers in a decade.

What's more, the company is losing a brand later this year when Ocean Village ceases to exist. And apart from orders for two new Princess ships in 2013 and 2014, Carnival's new-build programme is tailing off after 2012.

The answer, said the heads of the eight Carnival brands at the launch last night, is more itineraries that appeal to UK cruisers. There will be more ex-UK options for inexperienced cruisers and more adventurous itineraries for those who want something further afield.

It's already beginning to happen. Princess Cruises, for example, has a bigger programme out of Southampton this summer, with two extra departures, and now only bases 60 percent of its cruises from American ports, compared to 80 percent eight years ago.

Carnival Cruise Lines, the U.S.-centric, party-orientated cruise line which notoriously has focused much of its efforts on cruising in the Caribbean and in other North American regions, will place a ship in the Mediterranean in summer 2011. Holland America Line will offer 11 round-trip UK cruises in 2011. Cunard's maiden world cruise on the new Queen Elizabeth, sailing from Southampton, is already more than 55 percent sold.

In more news from the Carnival family of cruise lines, Costa Cruises is focusing on its winter Dubai departures, for which Britain is one of the strongest markets. Its two newest ships –- Costa Luminosa and Costa Deliziosa –- have been deployed there and the latter will sail the line's first-ever world cruise in 2011.

Luxury line Seabourn is launching another new ship, Seabourn Sojourn, in London this summer, with more ex-UK cruises on the cards. "The longer term aim is to have a full programme of cruises from the UK targeted at British travellers, especially those who prefer not to fly," said vice president Europe, Middle East and Africa, Andrew Macgowan.

One of the advantages for Carnival, as a company, is that its brands are so varied that virtually any style of traveller will find a line that suits, from ultra-casual to ultra-formal and from budget-orientated to luxury.

Carnival UK's commercial director, Nigel Esdale, said that the early success of P&O Cruises' 74-day, one-off venture to Alaska on Arcadia in 2011 (800 passengers have already signed up for the full voyage) was an indication that the line is ready to experiment with more far-flung destinations.

But nobody seemed to have much to say about what would happen to the displaced Ocean Village passengers, who after summer 2010, will have to find an alternative. "We are working to encourage them to stay in the Carnival family," offered managing director Nick Lighton.

But where? Is P&O Cruises going to start offering fly-cruising in the Med? Esdale continued: "I would not rule out fly-cruising. We are driven by profit and yield. We will base ships in Southampton as long as it is a profitable thing to do."

Maybe we'll be in for a few surprises when P&O's summer 2011 programme is revealed.

--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor