Almost two thirds of Cruise Critic U.K. readers would not go on a Carnival cruise, according to a recent poll.
It's not clear whether this is because the brand has been under the radar in Europe, or whether they actively dislike it, but either way Carnival will have a tough job to convince Brits to get onboard its ships.
Carnival Cruise Lines has been “a little bit late coming to the party” in terms of global expansion, admits the president and C.E.O., Gerry Cahill
Cahill said the line had been so focused on the U.S. that it had not thought of expanding beyond the domestic market.
But two years ago Carnival decided to look beyond U.S. shores and expand into two markets with similar cultures and the same language: the U.K. and Australia.
Although the line's newest ship, the 3,690-passenger Carnival Breeze, will be based out of Barcelona, Carnival expects the majority of European passengers to hail from the U.K. And next year Carnival Sunshine (the refitted Destiny) will replace Breeze in the Med, and Carnival Legend will be based in Dover – Carnival's biggest-ever European deployment.
“We have decided to put more capacity over here, which means we have to get more U.K. guests on board,” Cahill told Cruise Critic, speaking ahead of Breeze's maiden sailing.
“It's harder to get [U.S.] guests to fly over to the U.K., so we are trying to fill more capacity from the U.K. marketplace.”
When we asked why Breeze was being replaced by the older Carnival Sunshine in the Med next year, Cahill explained:
“We did debate this and I can assure you nobody will know that Sunshine was once Destiny.
We have spend $155m turning this into a Fun Ship 2.0, it has been completely retrofitted.
It will be closer to Breeze than to Destiny -- it is effectively a new ship.” (And if all goes well with the metamorphosis, Cahill said he expects other Carnival ships to get similarly massive makeovers.)
Cahill said the key to growth lay in the new to cruise market, which Carnival was actively chasing in the U.K.:
“We will grow the market and take capacity from other lines. Our business model is to grow the market.
A lot of the cruise industry has done a poor job in promoting new to cruise. Too many have relied on past passengers.
This is something I have looked at. No more than two or three lines [Royal Caribbean and Norwegian] have tried to attract first time cruisers.”
The issue this year, of course, is that first time cruisers have been put off booking because of the Costa Concordia tragedy, as Cahill attests:
“Experienced cruisers are still booking, they know it's safe, but some of the people who haven't been on a cruise are scared off this year.
We've got to convince them that it is safe to cruise.”
Meanwhile, Down Under, the 2,680-passenger Carnival Spirit will be permanently based in Sydney from October offering eight sailings. By 2014 this will have increased to 41.
Cahill said: “The two logical places [for expansion] were Australia and the U.K., for the language and the culture.
Our brand is pretty social and language is very important to us, and we didn't want to introduce lots of other languages because we felt that would dilute our offering.”
He added: “The more diverse we try and be the more it puts a strain on our product.”
Despite this, Carnival has introduced a few concessions to the two markets: tea and coffee making facilities in the cabins and two U.K. comedians on Breeze; and an Aussie-style barbecue on Spirit.
--by Adam Coulter, U.K. Editor