Tuesday, 31 December 2013

New Cruise Ships

New Cruise Ships

Check out the list of new ships we have compiled at We Travel 2U Cruise

Cruise LineShip NameSize/TonnagePassengersLaunch Date

New Cruise Ships Launching in 2014

Norwegian Cruise LineNorwegian Getaway144,017 tons4,000February 2014
Emerald WaterwaysEmerald Star 182February 2014 
Avalon WaterwaysAvalon Poetry II 128March 2014
Avalon WaterwaysAvalon Impression 164March 2014 
Viking River CruisesViking Alsvin 190March 2014 
Viking River CruisesViking Bestla 190March 2014 
Viking River CruisesViking Buri 190March 2014 
Viking River CruisesViking Delling 190March 2014 
Viking River CruisesViking Eistla 190March 2014 
Viking River CruisesViking Gullveig 190March 2014 
Viking River CruisesViking Heimdal 190March 2014 
Viking River CruisesViking Hermod 190March 2014 
Viking River CruisesViking Hlin 190March 2014 
Viking River CruisesViking Idi 190March 2014 
Viking River CruisesViking Ingvi 190March 2014 
Viking River CruisesViking Kara 190March 2014 
Viking River CruisesViking Kvasir 190March 2014 
Viking River CruisesViking Lif 190March 2014 
American Queen Steamboat CompanyAmerican Empress3,388 tons223April 2014
Aqua ExpeditionsAqua Mekong 40Spring 2014 
Scenic CruisesScenic Jade2,721 tons169April 2014
AmaWaterwaysAmaReina 164April 2014 
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise CollectionCatherine 160April 2014
Emerald WaterwaysEmerald Sky 182April 2014 
Scenic CruisesScenic Gem2,200 tons126May 2014 
Windstar CruisesStar Pride9,975 tons212May 2014 
Princess CruisesRegal Princess141,000 tons3,600May 2014
Avalon WaterwaysAvalon Illumination 164May 2014 
TUI CruisesMein Schiff 399,700 tons2,506June 2014 
Pearl Seas CruisesPearl Mist6,000 tons210June 2014
AmaWaterwaysAmaSonata 164July 2014 
AmaWaterwaysAmaPura 56Fall 2014 
Costa Cruise LinesCosta Diadema132,500 tons4,947October 2014 
Royal Caribbean InternationalQuantum of the Seas167,800 tons4,905November 2014

New Cruise Ships Launching in 2015

AIDA CruisesAIDAprima124,500 tons3,300March 2015 
Royal Caribbean InternationalAnthem of the Seas167,800 tons4,905April 2015
Viking River CruisesViking Star47,800 tons930April 2015

Coming soon to a port near you

Coming soon to a port near you

By Tom Stieghorst
*InsightNext year’s cruise ships have yet to arrive but, borrowing a page from the movie industry, cruise lines are starting to provide online trailers of their coming attractions.

Several of the industry’s most anticipated ships are being previewed in videos that can show agents and customers what they might be buying if they reserve a spot on the next newbuild.

Cruise lines have been producing these videos for a while, but they’re growing increasingly elaborate. They’re a great tool to build excitement for what is likely a premium sale.

According to a recent survey of Cruise Holidays agents, no ship is more anticipated than Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas, due to enter service next November from New York/New Jersey.

The ship will have lots of firsts, including the first  the first bumper cars and a giant mechanical arm that will take occupants of a glass capsule up and over the side of the ship.

All are prominently displayed on Royal Caribbean’s website in an eight-minute video that includes a lot of sophisticated 3-D imagery of a ship that physically has yet to be created.

On hand to narrate is actress Kristin Chenoweth, the ship’s godmother, along with RCCL chairman Richard Fain, Royal Caribbean International President Adam Goldstein and actress Estelle Harris of “Seinfeld” fame, who is allowed to take a few playful digs at Fain in the skydiving segment.

At eight minutes, the video done by visual effects house Brewster Parsons, is distinctive, if a bit long for the attention span of the average cruise shopper. But it is entertaining, full of cameos from the likes of magicians Penn & Teller, and there’s a lot of new ground to cover to explain all of Quantum’s special features.

At 2 minutes, 18 seconds, the video for the Norwegian Getaway, due in February, is much easier to digest. It is fast-paced, with no voiceover, and starts with an amazing tracking shot of the Waterfront entertainment area on the ship. The video soundtrack is full of marimbas and timbales, as befits a Miami-based ship, and there are several shots that capture the NCL logo on the ship’s stack so there’s no doubt whose ship it is.

Regal Princess, the sister ship to 2013’s Royal Princess, is such a close sibling that the Princess Cruises video promotes both at once. The length comes in at a manageable five minutes, the pacing is measured, and the ship’s features are explained by a soothing and neutral feminine voice.

Even ships that won’t debut until 2015 have videos, including a newly minted one for P&O Cruises’ Britannia, featuring executives on its newbuild team, and another for Viking Cruises’ Viking Star, a true departure for the river cruise company, that is briskly described by a British-sounding male narrator.

So if you have a spare moment, check out next year’s ships today. It has never been easier.

Cruise Holidays survey: Quantum the most anticipated ship

Cruise Holidays survey: Quantum the most anticipated ship

By Tom Stieghorst
Quantum-NorthStarPod-Render.jpgCruise Holidays said Royal Caribbean International’s Quantum of the Seas is the most anticipated cruise ship due in 2014.

In a survey of 133 of its franchisees about trends in cruising next year, Cruise Holidays found that when asked which ship they are anticipating the most, the “overwhelming response” was Quantum.

Other cruise ships entering service in 2014 include the Costa Diadema, Regal Princess and Norwegian Getaway.

Cruise Holidays said that the Quantum, which debuts in November 2014, accounts for 20% of its 2015 bookings so far in 2015.

Quantum, the first in a new class of ships for Royal Caribbean, will carry 4,100 passengers and will sail year-round from Bayonne, N.J., on seven- to 12-day cruises to the Bahamas and the eastern and southern Caribbean.

The survey said the Caribbean continues to command the most bookings of any cruise region by a wide margin, with 54.8% of the total for next year. Europe as a whole remains second with 10.4%, with Alaska third at 9.1% and Bermuda next at 3.5%

River cruises were included for comparison in the list for the first time. They account for 5.7% of all Cruise Holidays bookings in 2014.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Royal Caribbean hires firm to market Anthem of the Seas to younger generation

Anthem of the Seas

Anthem of the Seas is Royal Caribbean's brand new cruise ship that is under construction and a member of the Quantum class of cruise ships. Anthem of the Seas will have her first cruise in spring 2015, with a homeport yet to be announced.

Royal Caribbean has hired marketing firm TVC in an effort to reach a younger audience in the United Kingdom.  Royal Caribbean's new cruise ship Anthem of the Seas will be based in Southampton and the hiring is in conjunction with the announcement.
The project work will build up to the new ship sailing out from Southampton in April 2015, with couples and families among the key younger groups targeted.

TVC client service director James Myers believes his company can help Royal Caribbean reach a new group of people, "The brief is about reaching a new audience, and reaching people who would not normally consider cruising."

The six-figure deal will use music to evoke "holidays and good times" to help Royal Caribbean expand its share of the UK cruise market.
"Reaching a new audience is seen as difficult, so we're trying to help dispel the myth that a cruise holiday may not be the coolest, most credible way to spend a holiday."

Royal Caribbean to end partnership with Fisher Price

Royal Caribbean to end partnership with Fisher Price

Royal Caribbean will end its partnership with toy manufacturer Fisher Price as of January 1, 2014.
The ending of this deal doesn't mean the end of Fisher Price onboard. Rather, Royal Caribbean will augment the Fisher Price toys with toys from other brands as well.
A statement from Royal Caribbean summarizes the change, "As of January 1, 2014, Fisher Price will no longer be the official partner of the Nursery or our Babies and Tots program.  Our guest may still find Fisher Price product onboard but it will be complimented by various other brands."
Royal Caribbean will discontinue the following programs as a result of the end of the deal.
  • Fisher Price Playgroups
  • Royal Babies & Tots Nursery Décor 
  • Fisher Price Curriculum
  • Little People Birthday Party
  • Hot Wheels Race Track on CocoCay
  • Dining Room Kid's Menus
  • Fisher Price Toys in Adventure Ocean
  • Décor on Labadee and CocoCay
  • In-stateroom television content
  • Toy Lending Program​
Guest with kids under 3 years old will still be able to enjoy the following experiences to compliment their family cruising experience:
  • Adventure Art for Tots
  • Maritime Music (on select ships)
  • Royal Bedtime Stories

Friday, 27 December 2013

Steiner, Celebrity won't renew spa contract in 2014

Steiner, Celebrity won't renew spa contract in 2014

By Rebecca Tobin
Spa operator Steiner Leisure said this week that its agreement to operate the spas onboard Celebrity Cruises ships would not be renewed.

In a statement, the company said it had been advised by Celebrity that the line would not renew the agreement, which expires Dec. 31.

"The company is negotiating a transition plan as to the turnover of the ships to the new vendor," Steiner said.

In the statement, Steiner CEO Leonard Fluxman said the company was "disappointed with Celebrity's decision, particularly in view of our revenues being at historical highs on Celebrity's ships. We believe that the terms we proposed for renewal contained compelling economics, and it also contained a unique brand at sea. It is our understanding that Celebrity's decision was made purely from a marketing perspective."

"Steiner has been an excellent partner over the years," Celebrity said in an email. "We thank them for helping us deliver high quality spa experiences to our valued guests."

It said it would make an announcement about its new spa and wellness partner "in the near future."

Celebrity in recent years has expanded its spa offerings; for example, its AquaClass category, which debuted on the Solstice, enables passengers in AquaClass cabins to enjoy spa- and wellness-related perks and exclusive access to a restaurant featuring "clean cuisine."

Steiner has long been the largest spa operator at sea. In its statement, the company said its cruise line operations are conducted on spas on 155 ships. It currently services Celebrity sister brands Azamara Club Cruises and Royal Caribbean International. In June it announced a deal with Royal Caribbean to extend its agreement through 2017. Its land-based customers include Hilton, Marriott, St. Regis and W Hotels.

A handful of cruise ships and lines have contracted with other spa operators, such as Canyon Ranch, which operates the spas onboard Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2 and the Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises ships. 

New river cruise line sails in Russia, Ukraine

New river cruise line sails in Russia, Ukraine

By Michelle Baran

Two cruise operators have partnered to create World Quest Cruises, which is offering river cruises in Russia and Ukraine, among other destinations, to travellers in North America.

World Quest Cruises is a joint venture of Huntington, N.Y.-based Imperial River Cruises and Moscow-based Orthodox Cruise Co. Global Voyages Group of Bellevue, Wash., has been tapped to provide North American sales, marketing and call center support.

Imperial and Orthodox have been operating cruises in Russia and Ukraine for more than 20 years, and finally decided to sell their product directly to the North American market.

“The principal advantage is the experience — they’ve been operating ships in Russia for more than 20 years,” said Tom Russell, managing partner at Global Voyages Group. “The second is the value. Their products are typically 20% lower-priced than some of the other products that are available. That’s because there’s no middleman involved. They are the supplier.”

Starting in 2014, World Quest Cruises is offering river cruise itineraries in Russia and Ukraine, Portugal, Vietnam and Cambodia, as well as expedition cruises in Antarctica and the North Pole.

The company will sell into ships that Orthodox owns and operates in Russia and Ukraine, and charter other river cruise vessels.

World Quest's expedition cruises to Antarctica will be aboard the 114-passenger Sea Explorer. The 128-passenger icebreaker 50 Years of Victory will travel on a 14-day trip from the Russian port of Murmansk to the North Pole.

The North Pole itinerary will run from June 19 through Aug. 8, 2014, with prices starting at $24,995 per person, based on double occupancy.

In 2015, the company will expand its Russian river cruise offering with a 12-day itinerary between Moscow and St. Petersburg aboard the 100-passenger Princess Anabella, a vessel that is being refurbished for the 2015 program.

Prices for this river cruise start at $4,495 per person, plus port taxes and fuel surcharges. World Quest Cruises will have exclusive access to the Princess Anabella in 2015. 

Thursday, 26 December 2013

A look ahead at 2014 launches and christenings

A look ahead at 2014 launches and christenings

By Michelle Baran
InsightOK, I’ll be honest: This end-of-year insight in which I summarize the christenings and launches for the following year has become an invaluable tool for me in planning my year ahead, and that’s largely why I’ve maintained this tradition over the past few years.

But my hope, of course, is that it can and does serve as a useful tool for all you travel planners out there, as well. Happy 2014!

March 17: Viking Cruises will hold a christening ceremony in Avignon, France, for the 14 Viking Longships that are launching next year. Viking has not said which or how many of the Longships will be in Avignon for the ceremony, but the three 2014 Viking Longships that are slated to sail in that region are the Viking Buri, Viking Heimdal and Viking Hermod.

March 26: Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection will inaugurate the 159-passenger S.S. Catherine in Lyon, France, marking Uniworld's first expansion of its European fleet since 2011, when the vessel’s sister ship the S.S. Antoinette set sail.

April 5: The 223-passenger American Empress (formerly the Empress of the North) will be rechristened in Portland, Ore., and will sail on the Columbia and Snake rivers, after having been refurbished by the American Queen Steamboat Co.

April 15: Emerald Waterways, the first new river cruise line to launch since Scenic Cruises came onto the scene in 2008, will kick off with the launch of two newbuilds in Europe, the 182-passenger Emerald Star and the 182-passenger Emerald Sky. Emerald Waterways is aiming to be a more value-oriented alternative to existing river cruise lines.

July: Pandaw River Expeditions is launching two new 40-passenger vessels in Myanmar, the Kindat Pandaw and the Kalaw Pandaw.

September: Haimark Ltd. is introducing the 56-passenger Irrawaddy Explorer in Myanmar; as well as the 68-passenger Mekong Navigator that will sail in Vietnam and Cambodia.

November: AmaWaterways is introducing the all-suite AmaPura on Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River.

Late 2014: Sanctuary Retreats, a division of Abercrombie & Kent, is launching the 48-passenger, all-suite Sanctuary Ananda in Myanmar.

Also in 2014:

• Tauck is launching two newbuilds in Europe, the 130-passenger Inspire and Savor, that will each have 57% more suites than the company’s existing vessels.

• AmaWaterways will introduce two more ships in Europe in 2014, the 164-passenger AmaSonata and AmaReina. The vessels will be sister ships to the 164-passenger AmaCerto, which launched in 2012.

• Avalon Waterways is introducing three new river cruise vessels in Europe in 2014 — the 128-passenger Avalon Poetry II; the 166-passenger Avalon Illumination; and the 166-passenger Avalon Impression.

The cellphone debate

The cellphone debate

Technology brought us together in 2013, but in an unexpected way: It brought about the Great In-flight Phone Debate, an apparently one-sided discussion in which we all finally agreed on something. Nobody seems to want to listen to cellphone chatter on commercial airline flights.

As the Federal Communications Commission began the process of ending its ban on technical grounds, it pointed out that it will be up to the airlines to decide whether to offer passengers the option of using their wireless phones for text, email, Web browsing and/or voice calls.

But will it?

The mere prospect has led to such an extraordinary outpouring of angst and outrage that politicians are taking notice. Bills have been introduced in Congress to ban cellphone calls in flight, and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx asserted that his department already has -- and will try to use -- the legal authority to settle the question.

This demonstration of government responsiveness is interesting, but is this pre-emptive intervention really necessary?

As we report in the news pages today, a growing number of international airlines -- including some with reputations for excellent service -- are already using the technology, and their passengers are not rebelling, starting fistfights or jumping out of windows.

Although U.S. consumer confidence in airlines is understandably in, shall we say, a recovery mode, the international experience to date has shown that, in the words of Kevin Rogers, the CEO of wireless provider AeroMobile, the airlines are "quite capable" of managing this. He pointedly concluded, "You don't need to regulate it." 

We hope Congress and the Department of Transportation (DOT) get the message. Although the airline industry was deregulated in 1978, the industry's customer relations are still heavily encumbered by federal rules. We don't think the government should add to that burden without a compelling demonstration of need.

There is also the risk that pre-emptive congressional or DOT action at this stage could create jurisdictional battles that don't need to be fought. Will any U.S. rule stop at the water's edge? Will it apply to foreign airlines in U.S. airspace or on their inbound flights to the U.S., as other DOT rules now do? How will foreign governments react?

If common sense and market forces can settle or avoid any of these questions, the government should stay in standby mode. We will surely need it if there's a market failure, but are we really so sure the market will fail?

The top stories of 2013

The top stories of 2013

By Bill Poling
Year in reviewYears hence, you’ll want to have an answer when the person in the next rocking chair asks, “What year was it when we didn’t have any hurricanes?” That will be 2013.

This answer will be the same if they ask when ARC shut down Helix, when Delta bought a piece of Virgin Atlantic, when the New York Hilton gave up on room service, or when Hyatt went into all-inclusives.

But that will be just for starters. For the real conversation about 2013, you’ll need to refer to one of those Top 10 lists that journalists love to conjure up this time of year.

You’re in luck. We’ve done it again, and we present Travel Weekly’s Top 10 travel news stories of 2013.

Radical change  
for Carnival Corp.

• 2/18: Cruisers booked on Carnival Triumph forced to change plans
• 2/25: Triumph suits add to Carnival woes
• 7/1: Arison steps down as CEO, names successor
• 8/5: New on the job, Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald is ‘listening’

A year after the devastating loss of life from the capsizing of the Costa Concordia, Carnival Corp. was again haunted early in 2013 after an engine room fire disabled the Carnival Triumph in the Gulf of Mexico on Feb. 10. The plight of the ship and its passengers, drifting with limited power and no propulsion, grabbed the headlines, flattened the Wave season for much of the industry and set the stage for what would turn out to be a year of transformation for the world’s largest cruise company.

In June, Carnival Corp. Chairman and CEO Micky Arison hired former Carnival Cruise Lines CEO Bob Dickinson as a consultant on distribution issues and to enhance the company’s relationships with travel agents.

But that was just the beginning.

Days later, Arison — son of co-founder Ted Arison — announced he was relinquishing the CEO role to long-time board member Arnold Donald, a relative unknown in the industry despite his 12 years of service as a director.

Soon there were signs of a new approach to trade relations. An open letter from Arison to agents, in a widely circulated advertisement in October, acknowledged the role of agents in the company’s success. And in response to agent concerns, Carnival Cruise Lines revised its rate structure to simplify its categories to make them easier for agents to explain and to sell.

The evolution continues. As Donald settled into his new role, the company reshuffled its top management, creating a new advisory role for former vice chairman and COO Howard Frank. The company also created Holland America Group, creating a central management for the Holland America, Princess and Seabourn brands.

In all, Carnival Corp. underwent more radical change in 2013 than it had in the previous decade.

Radical change at American Express

• 4/15: AmEx to sell Travel Impressions to Apple
• 9/16: AmEx agrees to sell publishing unit
• 9/16: AmEx closes its 20 travel offices
• 9/30: AmEx to sell half of business-travel division to Certares

American Express might be running a close second to Carnival as the year’s most changed travel company, partly a reflection of its renewed focus on financial services and a desire to pare down noncore functions.

The first jolt came in April with the sale of Travel Impressions and other AmEx tour operations to Apple Leisure Group, parent of Apple Vacations, AMResorts and other brands. The sale was not only notable for what AmEx was giving up, but for what it portends for Apple, newly acquisitive after a cash infusion by Bain Capital in 2012.

Months later came the divestiture of American Express Publishing Corp., publisher of Travel + Leisure and Food & Wine, to Time Inc.
American Express also disclosed plans to close some 20 storefront offices that sell leisure travel, moving agents in those offices into the ranks of work-at-home travel counselors.

But the big shocker came in September when it was announced that American Express was to sell half of its Global Business Travel division, essentially turning a $30 billion travel management operation into a 50-50 joint venture with an investment group headed by Certares International Bank.

As with the Travel Impressions sale, the transaction raised eyebrows not only because of what AmEx was spinning off, but also because of the identity of the buyer: The CEO of Certares is Michael “Greg” O’Hara, co-chair of Travel Leaders Group.

Where that leads could be prove to be a major story for 2014.

Whither Travelocity?

• 6/24: Travelocity Business sold to BCD
• 8/26 Expedia to power Travelocity sales
• 9/2 Expedia-Travelocity deal could shift online sales away from hotels

Travelocity was a pioneer in the online travel game. A decade ago, if there was talk of the “Big Two” in online travel, it was understood to mean Travelocity and Expedia, often in that order.

But by 2006, Expedia’s focus on merchant hotel sales had helped vault it to the No. 3 spot on Travel Weekly’s Power List, with sales volume of $15.6 billion. That was twice the total of the former online leader, which got a late start in the race for supremacy in hotel bookings.

Since Sabre was taken private by Silver Lake Partners and Texas Pacific Group in 2007, the inner workings of its Travelocity unit have been less than transparent, but two events in 2013 strongly suggest that the brand might be succumbing to its challenges.

In June, the company sold off its corporate booking tool, Travelocity Business, to BCD Travel for an undisclosed sum. There had been speculation at the time that the spin-off was part of a housecleaning prior to an initial public offering, but the stock offering never came.

Instead, two months later, Travelocity disclosed plans to essentially outsource all of its operations to Expedia, a virtual merger — or virtual takeover — that is expected to kick in next year.

In addition to giving a big boost to Expedia in its market-share battle with Priceline, the deal, in the words of one analyst, amounted to a Travelocity “surrender” to its long-time rival.

Travelocity, however, remained insistent that even though Expedia will be powering its site, the deal was a partnership rather than a merger, and that it fully intended to grow the brand.

Where does the gnome go from here?

The debate over NDC

• 3/18: IATA seeks DOT OK on NDC resolution
• 4/22: Fear of unknown grows rampant as IATA pushes NDC initiative
• 5/6: Filings with DOT on NDC reveal deep airlines/agents split
• 7/21: IATA responds to critics of Resolution 787

IATA filed its application for DOT approval of its Resolution 787 in March, setting off a firestorm of criticism. IATA described the plan as a well-intentioned effort to set XML messaging standards so that airlines could distribute ancillary services and customized service bundles through the agency channel.

That sounded innocent enough, but critics charged that behind the veneer of innocence, the airlines were trying to force a new distribution paradigm down the industry’s throat. And the filibuster was joined.

Numerous stakeholders in the intermediary channel, including ASTA and the Travel Technology Association, said the plan would eliminate comparison shopping, prevent consumers from obtaining anonymous fare quotes and require travelers to reveal too many personal details to make a booking — all of which IATA denied.

As negative comments overwhelmed the DOT docket, the airlines passed a resolution at IATA’s Annual General Meeting in June stating that the New Distribution Capability (NDC) wouldn’t do any of the pernicious things that critics said it was trying to do.

As the year progressed, tempers cooled as IATA offered, and ASTA accepted, an opportunity to get more involved in the process. Travelport adopted a more conciliatory attitude, and other industry officials began to admit publicly that if new airline products are to be available through agents, then some kind of XML messaging standard will be a crucial part of making that happen, whether it comes from IATA or not.

Merger surprise

• 2/18: AA-US airways merger valued at $11 billion
• 8/19 DOJ antitrust suit to prolong battle that’s decades old
• 11/18 Slots deal clears way for merger

The Justice Department’s antitrust division surprised the industry in August by challenging the American-US Airways merger, an $11 billion deal announced in February and widely seen as the final act in a series of airline mega-mergers.

The department claimed that the merger would reduce competition in numerous domestic markets and give the merged carrier an impermissibly large share of takeoff and landing slots at Washington’s Reagan National Airport.

Although consumer advocates cheered the move for attempting to put the brakes on the airline merger trend, the challenge was widely criticized by business and legal analysts, who said the case rested on a faulty analysis.

The carriers vowed to fight it out in court, but after the presiding judge asked the parties to give mediation a shot, they quickly came up with a settlement.

The deal calls for the carriers to sell off 52 pairs of Washington slots and 17 pairs at New York LaGuardia and to relinquish two gates at each of five major airports around the country.

Determined to get more low-fare competitors and new entrants into the slot-controlled airports, the Justice Department will supervise the sales and approve the buyers.

American and US Airways said the divestiture and other conditions won’t cause them to miss their goal of $1 billion in synergies after the first year, and they closed the deal on Dec. 9, emerging as American Airlines Group.
 Government dysfunction

• 2/25: Travel could be the public face of sequestration’s budget cuts
• 4/22 Industry gets first measure of sequester’s travel impact
• 4/29: FAA: Staffing cuts created 40% jump in delayed flights
• 5/26: FAA budget issue might obscure more weighty industry factors

Goofy government might be an everyday event in Washington, but in 2013 partisan gridlock in Congress created two avoidable fiscal crises that had a direct impact on travel: a sequester and a shutdown.

The sequester consisted of a package of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts designed to be so harsh and indiscriminate that Congress would be motivated to pass a budget in order to avoid them.

It didn’t work. The spending cuts, softened by an interim amendment, went into effect in March, disrupting air traffic control and slowing customs processing at gateway airports. It even threatened to delay the reopening of Yellowstone’s snow-covered roads, until some local tourism and business interests in Wyoming chipped in to get the roads plowed.

The spike in flight delays prompted Congress to soften the impact on the FAA. The furor over funding subsided until the beginning of the fiscal year, when another budget stalemate shut down virtually the entire federal government for 16 days in October.

The shutdown emptied national parks and closed numerous attractions, monuments and museums to the puzzlement of many overseas visitors. Travel or participation in conventions or meetings by government employees also came to a halt.

The U.S. Travel Association estimated that the episode cost the economy $152 million a day in travel-related spending, or $2.4 billion in all. Whether our elected officials learned anything from it remains to be seen.

Regulating cruises?

• 3/25: New York Sen. Schumer proposes cruise bill of rights
• 5/27: Cruise lines adopt first ‘bill of rights’ for clients at sea
• 8/22: Rockefeller calls for DOT oversight tax on cruise lines

Acting to quell growing criticism and media attention, CLIA member cruise lines in May voluntarily adopted a bill of rights for passengers, specifying, among other things, the right to refunds for canceled or interrupted cruises and the lines’ obligations in the event of disruptions or emergencies.

The 10-point plan went beyond a six-point list that had been suggested by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), but it wasn’t enough to deter Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), the powerful head of the Senate Commerce Committee.

Rockefeller, who browbeat industry executives during a July oversight hearing, introduced a Cruise Passenger Protection Act that would make the CLIA Bill of Rights enforceable in courts and empower the Transportation Department to impose a consumer protection regime on cruise lines, with the power to levy fines for violations.

He also introduced a bill to address his long-standing complaint that cruise lines don’t pay their fair share of federal taxes. The bill would subject foreign flag cruise lines to U.S. income tax and add a 5% excise tax, or “gross receipts” tax, on all U.S.-related cruise revenue, potentially amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

The cruise lines are fighting it and, from the industry’s perspective, the congressional Republicans’ general distaste for new taxes and new regulations may work in their favor, but the cruise lines’ public image is still fragile. Could another stranding or incident at sea tip the balance?

Reinventing car rental

• 1/7: Avis’ Zipcar purchase suggests car-sharing business has legs
• 4/8: Hertz bets on car-sharing as ‘future’ of auto rentals
• 7/22: Car-sharing the newest frontier for big three rental firms

When did car-sharing come of age? You could say it was in 2007 when Zipcar and Flexcar merged to create a single national brand, or in 2011 when Zipcar’s IPO gave it a market cap of $1 billion, but we vote for Jan. 1, 2013, when Avis Budget agreed to pony up $500 million to acquire Zipcar, the leading car-share operator with, at the time, some 750,000 members — many on college campuses.

Some of Zipcar’s fans saw the move as a dispiriting takeover of a plucky upstart by a corporate Goliath. But the transaction also validated the business model and signaled that car-sharing was here to stay: Avis not only wanted in, it was paying a premium and paying in cash to get in fast.

The deal closed in March, and within weeks, Hertz put its own car-share division on steroids, adding self-service technology for hourly rentals to thousands of cars in its fleet. Dubbed Hertz 24/7, the service is now available in some 300 locations in six countries.

Enterprise also got into the act by combining several acquisitions to create Enterprise CarShare, and then moved into the ride-share space by acquiring Zimride, which matches drivers with passengers — all online, of course.

Car-sharing took on an added twist at several airports this year when startups FlightCar and Hubber began to recruit airline passengers to make their own cars available for short-term rentals while they were out of town.

Why rent when you can share?

Dreamliner woes

• 1/21: Safety concerns prompt 787s to be grounded around globe
• 4/29: United eyes 787 return for Denver-Japan

In a severe blow to Boeing, the FAA grounded the entire fleet of the 787 Dreamliner for three months early this year, the first such action against a major airliner since the DC-10 grounding in 1979.

This time, the grounding did not follow a horrendous crash, but the 787, barely into its second year of service, had experienced numerous instances of overheating, smoke and fires in its battery compartment early in January. A few such incidents could be chalked up to the teething pains common with most new aircraft types, but by midmonth the FAA had seen enough.

The immediate impact was confined to the handful of airlines that had taken delivery, with the schedules of Japanese rivals Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways being the hardest hit.

Before its launch, the 787’s composite structure was thought to be the most radical and risky feature of the aircraft, but the grounding was triggered by something much more mundane — the backup battery for the auxiliary power system, for which Boeing had chosen lithium.

The grounding prompted Airbus, which is developing a competing aircraft, the A350, to forgo lithium batteries for the initial version of its plane and rely instead on older (and heavier) nickel-cadmium technology.

Boeing engineers came up with a solution that got the aircraft back into service, and deliveries resumed, with Boeing boldly predicting that the grounding would not have a significant financial impact.

Though the 787 program has been plagued by delays, some 60 airlines around the world have 1,000 on order. Perhaps the Dreamliner is finally over the hump.

PEDs in flight

• 11/4: FAA approves use of mobile devices at takeoff, landing
• 11/25: FCC to review ban on in-flight cellular

In-flight service has been revolutionized by seats, beds, baggage fees and WiFi, but airline passengers were mostly turned on in 2013 by government pronouncements about what they could and could not do with their personal electronic devices.

The FAA kicked things off in 2012 when it empaneled a high-level advisory committee to review all the technical and human factors related to the use of electronic devices such as laptops, e-readers, tablets and smartphones during critical phases of flight, such as takeoffs and landings.

The panel made its recommendations in September 2013, and a month later the FAA adopted a procedure that would enable airlines to permit gate-to-gate use of virtually all devices except cellphones for voice calls, which remained the subject of a ban by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Within days, most major airlines were taking steps to get in compliance with the FAA guidance, to the cheers of frequent and infrequent flyers alike.

The rest of the world took notice. The European Aviation Safety Agency, which sets standards for the European Union, had a representative on the FAA panel and followed the U.S. action with a pronouncement of its own, closely matching the U.S. rule.

But the story didn’t end there. In November, the FCC made a surprise announcement that it was reviewing its ban on cellphone usage, which was based on outdated technical information.

Some foreign airlines had already proved that with so-called Picocells or cellular relay stations on their aircraft, it was possible to provide in-flight cell service without disrupting networks on the ground.

The news was greeted with trepidation by travelers, who feared an outbreak of loud and unending cellphone chatter, but the FCC cautioned that it’s merely addressing the question of technical standards.

Whether to allow mobile phone use in flight — for data, texting and/or voice — will remain a decision for individual airlines, all of whom know that passengers can vote with their feet — and their tweets.

But just hours after the FCC voted to begin its review, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx stated that the Department of Transportation was assuming authority over the use of cellphones onboard aircraft on the grounds that it was a matter of consumer protection.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Miami and Norwegian’s resurgence

Miami and Norwegian’s resurgence

By Tom Stieghorst
*InsightFor years, one of the most impressive sights in the cruise business was the Norway steaming out of the Port of Miami.

Painted a striking blue, the former S.S. France was over 1,000 feet long at a time when most cruise ships were pushing 800 feet. It had the sleek look of a classic liner, which it was before being mothballed in 1974 when trans-Atlantic jetliners made it obsolete.

In 1979, what was then Norwegian Caribbean Line bought the ship and spent $80 million retooling it for use as a full-time cruise ship. For all of its good looks, however, the Norway was something of a white elephant financially.

A steamship when others were diesel electric, and completely unique when fleet uniformity was coming into vogue, the Norway helped send Norwegian into a decades-long tailspin.

A weakened rival, Norwegian was unable to compete head-on with new ships from Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International. It had to zig when those lines zagged. With Miami cruises firmly locked down, Norwegian went hunting elsewhere. It abandoned the seven-day year-round Caribbean cruise from South Florida about a decade ago.

So it is noteworthy that Norwegian will have four ships cruising from Miami this winter, including the brand-new Norwegian Getaway, which will stay year round after making its debut in February.

And that’s not all. While Norwegian isn’t confirming it, the Miami-Dade County Commission has just approved a joint marketing agreement for the Norwegian Escape that would keep the ship in Miami for at least three years following its debut in late 2015.

The deal calls for Norwegian to hold the Escape’s naming ceremony at the port, which now styles itself PortMiami. For its part, the county-run port will pay $3 million to help market the ship.

Norwegian’s return to Miami can only help re-establish that port, which once was the undisputed cruise capital of the world but has lost some of its mojo as Port Everglades and Port Canaveral have come on. PortMiami recently crossed the 4 million passenger mark for the first time, keeping it ahead of its rivals, if only by a little bit.

A resurgent Norwegian is even good for its competitors, because they don’t have to contend with all the cabins that the old Norwegian used to price to fill six weeks before sailing.

Norwegian’s new ships no longer have the classic lines of the Norway, but they don’t have its losses either. That’s progress.