Friday, 31 January 2014

Frank named Costa Cruises chairman

Frank named Costa Cruises chairman

By Tom Stieghorst
HowardFrankLongtime Carnival Corp. executive Howard Frank was named chairman of Costa Cruises, succeeding Pier Luigi Foschi in the role.

Both Frank and Foschi retired last year from Carnival Corp. positions. Frank had been vice chairman and chief operating officer. Foschi, in addition to chairing Costa was chairman of Carnival Asia.

Carnival said that in his new role, Frank will support Costa CEO Michael Thamm.

When he stepped down, Frank was named to serve as special adviser to the CEO and to the chairman of Carnival Corp.

Frank is also chair of the executive committee of CLIA. 

Crystal to raise prices on most cruises

Crystal to raise prices on most cruises

By Tom Stieghorst

Crystal Cruises said it would raise fares on 94% of its 2014, 2015 and 2016 cruises on March 1, reflecting strong demand.

Under its “Book Now” program, the luxury line assesses its fares every 60 days and raises them on itineraries that are selling sufficiently well to support it.

Crystal said fares would increase on more than 120 cruises for the next “Book Now” period ending April 30.

The line said 2014 is already 78% booked, and 2015 bookings are 42% ahead of this same time last year for 2014. 

Cruise ship returns home with more than 600 sick passengers

Cruise ship returns home with more than 600 sick passengers

By Tom Stieghorst
Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas returned to its home port in Bayonne, N.J., on Wednesday afternoon following a widespread outbreak of gastrointestinal illness on the 3,000-passenger ship.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported that 629 passengers, more than 20% of the passengers onboard, were affected by the illness over the course of the cruise. Also, 54 crew members were reported ill.

The last time a cruise ship had as many sick people was in 2006, when 536 passengers and 143 crew members from the Carnival Liberty were reported ill, according to CDC records.

Royal Caribbean shortened the 10-day cruise to eight days to allow for extra sanitation measures before the next cruise on Friday.

"Guests scheduled for the next cruise on Explorer of the Seas can be confident that all possible measures will have been taken to prevent further problems,” a Royal Caribbean statement said.

Royal Caribbean said it plans a thorough sanitizing of the entire ship.

Officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control said they won't know if it was a outbreak until later this week.

Passengers on the stricken cruise will receive a 50% refund of their cruise fare and a 50% future cruise credit.

Guests who had to be confined to staterooms will be credited with one future cruise day for each day of confinement.

Royal Caribbean said it will also reimburse airline change fees and hotel accommodations for guests whose travel home was inconvenienced by the change of travel plans.

Getaway introduced in New York, but thoughts drift to warm Miami

Getaway introduced in New York, but thoughts drift to warm Miami

By Arnie Weissmann
Getaway-SpongeBobABOARD THE NORWEGIAN GETAWAY — The frigid January weather in New York has kept most industry guests and media away from the Norwegian Getaway's distinctive outdoor attractions during the ship's inaugural sailing.

Few took advantage of the open-air dining on Waterfront, let alone the ropes course, water park with slides or other top-decks attractions.

The ship is a structural clone of its older sister, the Breakaway, which debuted last year, and having the passengers stay largely indoors kept them focused on the shifting of emphasis from themes of New York, where Breakaway homeports, to Miami, where the Getaway will be based.

“I like the subtle touches of Miami,” said Karen Giantomasi, client services supervisor for the online travel agency Cruise Direct International Voyager. “The mojitos in place of Champagne, Cuban food at the buffet.”

But many travel counselors said the shift in geographic emphasis inside really just supports the biggest change of all — that this ship will soon have a southern point of departure.

Although Wendi Randal of Liberty Travel in Pittsburgh doesn’t have clients in either homeport, the cold weather emphasized to her the importance of having a warm gateway. “You want [clients] to be able to try everything that’s outside, and you don’t want the weather to hinder that.”

One discerning couple didn’t mind at all that, other than the tweaking of restaurant and bar themes, the interiors were virtually identical. Sitting quietly and unnoticed at a side table at Sugarcane Mojito Bar off the atrium was Craig Cannonier, premier of Bermuda, and his wife Antoinette. 

He had been aboard during the inauguration of the Breakaway (which sails to Bermuda), and on this sailing was again in a suite in the Haven, the private area atop the ship which caters to upscale travelers.

“We’ve broken away, we’ve gotten away, next we’ll stay away — stay away from land,” he said. (He said he wasn’t worried about competition for Bermuda from cruising, and believes that port visits ultimately lead to subsequent longer land stays.)

As for the lack of differences — he did notice that “here, you have a mermaid painted on the outside” — he was sanguine. “They took a model that worked and built another. Why do something else? It’s not the same itinerary, so why not build a replica that works and take it to another destination?”

“We’ll bring our family aboard [the Breakaway] on our next vacation, down to our 3-year-old grandchild,” added Antoinette. “They do a good job.”

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

South Carolina court throws out lawsuit against Carnival

South Carolina court throws out lawsuit against Carnival

By Jerry Limone
The South Carolina Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit alleging that Carnival Cruise Lines' operations in Charleston violated the city’s nuisance ordinances.

The court ruled that such a lawsuit must be brought by property owners, not neighborhood associations.

In 2011, the Southern Law Center filed the lawsuit on behalf of four Charleston community groups against Carnival, seeking to "enforce local laws that protect the city's healthy environment and treasured historic assets."

The four community groups were the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association, the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association, the Preservation Society of Charleston and the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League.

The court stated, "Lacking from these allegations is any claim that the plaintiffs themselves or their members have suffered from a particularized harm. … These allegations are simply complaints about inconveniences suffered broadly by all persons residing in or passing through the City of Charleston and therefore, plaintiffs fail to establish the first element of standing."

The South Carolina Ports Authority and the City of Charleston joined the lawsuit on Carnival's behalf in 2011.

"This was an unprecedented lawsuit brought against a global brand and customer of our port," said Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the South Carolina Ports Authority. "Given the public interest in this case, we are gratified that the State Supreme Court, in its original jurisdiction, affirms that Carnival has been operating responsibly and lawfully in Charleston at Union Pier Terminal."

The Southern Environmental Law Center said the ruling “did not address whether Carnival’s home basing operation complies with local ordinances, or whether it is a nuisance that interferes with the property rights of neighboring home owners, as the plaintiffs alleged. “

"We’re disappointed that after two years the court refused to pass on the legality of Carnival’s operation and instead dismissed the case on a legal technicality that the claims should have been brought by individual property owners rather than neighborhood associations and other groups,” said Blan Holman, the Southern Environmental Law Center attorney who represented the plaintiff groups in the lawsuit.

The Carnival Fantasy has sailed Caribbean cruises year-round from Charleston since 2010. The 2,052-passenger ship is Carnival’s oldest, having entered service in 1990.

Cruising’s advantage over theme park magic

Cruising’s advantage over theme park magic

By Tom Stieghorst

I had the chance last week to spend some time at a Central Florida theme park, one of the cruise industry’s competitors for the vacation dollar.

Universal Studios Orlando offers a formidable array of attractions, including an evening entertainment complex, three luxury hotels with a budget-priced resort in the wings and a pair of theme parks chock full of roller coasters, rides and faithful backlot reproductions of New York, San Francisco and even Homer Simpson’s hometown, Springfield.

The latest project at Universal is a re-creation of London for an attraction devoted to literary wizard Harry Potter. Sometime this summer The Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Diagon Alley will open, bringing the Wyndham Theater and other landmarks of the city to more than 6 million Universal Studios visitors annually.

Cruise lines have one crucial edge in the competition. While theme parks must re-create the world in Central Florida, cruise ships can actually bring guests to all of the fascinating destinations that can only be represented at land-based parks.

It seems almost too obvious to mention, but “destination” sometimes gets lost in the cruise industry’s sales initiatives.

One of Wizarding World’s marvels will be a train, the Hogwarts Express, running between the new attraction in Universal Studios and the original Harry Potter theme area in the adjacent Islands of Adventure park.

Although Universal is withholding details, executives hint that the train will have video screens instead of windows to project images of London and the British countryside on the journey from Diagon Alley to the imaginary Hogsmeade village in Scotland. It will be exciting to see, and I’ll look forward to it as much as the next theme park fan. But on a cruise excursion one could see the real thing in all of its glory. That has to trump seeing the facsimile in Orlando, no matter how clever the reproduction.

The same applies to the themed re-creations of France, China and Morocco in Walt Disney World’s Epcot or the Bavarian beer hall at Busch Gardens in Tampa. How much better to drink some locally brewed beer in Hamburg, or see the quays of Shanghai from the deck of a cruise ship.

Orlando has its advantages, too. Plenty of people who struggle to afford going abroad can see a version of distant lands there. But cruises can take guests to the real thing, and that’s a selling point agents ought to play up.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Which new river vessels are you most excited about?

Which new river vessels are you most excited about?

By Michelle Baran
InsightIt just sunk in: A ton of brand new river cruise vessels are about to launch in March and April (my Outlook calendar is blowing up). I’ve been writing about the upcoming christenings all year, but now that the  are upon us, I’m finally thinking about the actual new hardware we’re about to see and some of the developments to be on the lookout for.

Here are some points of interest:

On 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.

Uniworld has a history of going all-out on its interiors — and judging by the early photos and renderings of the Catherine, this vessel will be no exception. A Leopard Lounge with safari-themed details? A mosaic-tiled pool and spa area? Have you seen those black-and-white stateroom interiors on their website? Needless to say, the vessel promises to be a feast for the senses.

Totally switching gears, on March 31 the 220-passenger paddlewheeler American Empress (formerly the Empress of the North) will be reincarnated by the American Queen Steamboat Co., bringing back a vessel to the Pacific Northwest that was built in 2003 and that has been laid up since the end of Majestic America Line in 2008. Steamboat enthusiasts and historians will surely be curious as to how well the company pulls off its resuscitation effort.

And let’s not forget that an entirely new river cruise line is launching in April: Emerald Waterways, Scenic Tours’ four-star European river cruising project.
I’m intrigued by the heated swimming pool with retractable roof and movie theater that are slated to be features of the 182-passenger Emerald Star and the 182-passenger Emerald Sky, which will set sail on April 15. I’m envisioning Starwood’s Aloft brand in river cruising form.

Speaking of mass brands, we can’t leave out Viking’s 14-ship-strong launch taking place in France in March. Will the new batch of Longships really be identical to their sister ship predecessors? Or will there be some new little personality and amenity tweaks to the 2014 flock?

And also, I’m curious how Viking will pull off a 14-vessel simul-christening. My best guess is live broadcasts from multiple launch sites. But Viking is good at surprises. They’ve been awfully quiet about the launches, and that could mean a lot of different things. It’s a nail-biter to be sure.

Illness outbreak affecting 300 passengers on Explorer of the Seas

Illness outbreak affecting 300 passengers on Explorer of the Seas

Illness outbreak affecting 300 passengers on Explorer of the Seas
Ten per cent of passengers on a Royal Caribbean International ship in the Caribbean are reported to have fallen ill with symptoms including vomiting and diarrhoea.
US health officials boarded 3,505-passenger Explorer of the Seas in the US Virgin Islands yesterday to investigate the outbreak of gastrointestinal illness affecting at least 300 people. Twenty-two crew members also reported feeling ill.
The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said 281 of the 3,050 passengers on board the ship had reported getting sick during a Caribbean cruise that left Cape Liberty, New Jersey, last Tuesday.
The ship underwent "extensive and thorough sanitising" to help prevent more people getting sick during a previous call in Puerto Rico, a company spokeswoman said.
The vessel bypassed a scheduled stop at the company's beach destination in northern Haiti to sail directly to San Juan, Puerto Rico's capital.
"This was a difficult decision to make; however, we feel it is best to make this itinerary modification to help prevent any more guests from becoming ill," the spokeswoman told The Guardian.
She added that special cleaning products and disinfectants that are proven to kill norovirus were being used to clean the ship.
The passengers and crew who fell ill have "responded well to over-the-counter medication being administered on board the ship," she said.
At least two CDC officials, an epidemiologist and an environmental health officer, were expected to investigate and evaluate the response to the outbreak on the cruise liner.

MSC Cruises to halt ex-UK sailings in 2015

MSC Cruises to halt ex-UK sailings in 2015

MSC Cruises to halt ex-UK sailings in 2015
MSC Cruises is halting its ex-UK sailings in 2015 as it looks to focus on its fly-cruise Mediterranean offering.
As part of the major refit of Lirica class ships, MSC Opera – currently sailing out of Southampton – will be out of action for part of the summer months in 2015.
The cruise line said this led to a decision to halt ex-UK sailings for a year to focus on fly-cruise capacity out of the UK.
Giles Hawke, executive director for UK, Ireland and Australia, said the line would be introducing new tools to support agents booking fly-cruises with MSC.
He said: “As market leader for Mediterranean cruises it is important that we work to reinforce this position by increasing our fly-cruise capacity, along with improving our ships to include more balcony cabins, more onboard entertainment and additional technological advancements.
“We are considering various charter options and working with our air partners to come up with the best approach to keep up with the current customer demand for fly-cruises direct to the Mediterranean.
“We will also be introducing tools supporting travel agents in order to make the fly-cruise booking process easier than ever.”
In total the Lirica class ships, made up of MSC Armonia, MSC Sinfonia, MSC Opera and MSC Lirica, will be in dry dock for 28 weeks.
In September, the cruise line revealed it was doubling its capacity out of Southampton for this year by sending MSC Magnifica to join Opera for four seven-night cruises.

Coast Guard to propose cruise ship video surveillance rules

Coast Guard to propose cruise ship video surveillance rules

By Tom Stieghorst
CCTV - Cruise Ship - Surveillance CameraNearly four years after passage of a comprehensive cruise safety law, the U.S. Coast Guard is getting ready to propose a rule for three of the trickiest provisions in the legislation.

The proposed rule, expected out in June, will outline how cruise lines can comply with a requirement in the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act that they deploy technology for “capturing images of passengers or detecting passengers who have fallen overboard.”

Also addressed in the rule will be how a cruise ship’s video surveillance system should be operated to document crimes on the ship and assist in their later prosecution.

Advocates of the law say the provisions will make passengers feel more secure about taking a cruise.

But the cruise industry has raised red flags about the cost and practicality of applying the law. In one instance, a cruise line told auditors at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that just doubling the time it keeps video footage from 14 to 28 days would cost an extra $21.8 million.

Most of the 15 provisions in the 2010 act, such as peepholes in cabin doors and standard rail heights, had been translated into Coast Guard guidance by June 2011.

The remaining ones involved complex technologies and, in some cases, language in the law that didn’t set a clear benchmark for gauging compliance.

In the case of detecting when persons fall overboard, the law called for compliance “to the extent that such technology is available.”

The Coast Guard asked for input from cruise lines, CLIA and passenger advocacy groups to help formulate its rule.

A recent report by the Miami Herald found that at least 28 passengers went overboard on cruise ships between October 2010 and June 2013. Rapid detection of persons going overboard would clearly enhance safety, but cruise lines say the jury is still out on automated detection systems.

CLIA told the Coast Guard that the technology to capture images of overboard episodes exists, but not the ability to detect them in real time. CLIA said vessel movement, sun glare, salt spray encrustation and weather all make instruments unreliable.

If detectors either fail to report incidents, or report false incidents, that would raise the cost, liability and burden on passengers.

Still, several cruise lines are testing various technologies. One unidentified cruise executive told the GAO that if companies are required to go to the expense of installing detectors, they should not produce inaccurate results that would increase operating costs.

Video surveillance is another area where technology exists, but its application is open for debate. Victim advocacy groups say existing cameras should be monitored continuously for crime, and recorded images should be stored for up to 90 days.

CLIA recommended a risk-based approach that would take into account differences among vessels, cruise lines and itineraries and said video should be stored for a week, nearly matching the average cruise length of 7.2 days.

Coast Guard officials told GAO auditors that when the rule is issued in June, rather than being prescriptive it is likely to be performance-based — outlining what is to be achieved — to allow for some flexibility in implementation.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Getting serious about meetings at sea

Getting serious about meetings at sea

By Tom Stieghorst
*Insight A new campaign has launched to drum up more travel linked to business meetings, and the cruise industry is seeking its share.

CLIA has signed on with Meetings Mean Business, a coalition of groups and companies that benefit from business gatherings.

The group, which is spearheaded by the U.S. Travel Association, includes big hoteliers like Hilton and Hyatt, gaming company Caesars Entertainment, meetings specialists like Maritz Travel and park operators like Disney.

“The unfortunate trend in the professional workplace is that we are all disappearing farther behind our electronic devices, and both empirically and intuitively, that’s counterproductive,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow.

He added that a decline of in-person communications threatens everything from scientific innovation to workplace bonhomie.

The time may be ripe for a push for more meetings and. The economy seems to be growing, and corporate budgets for travel may be expanding.

That was not the case in 2009 when Meetings Mean Business was formed. The economy was in freefall and spending, especially by government agencies, on conferences at resorts was drawing fire as extravagant when foreclosures and unemployment were rampant.

While cruise lines have always had some meetings traffic, it has largely been a sideline to their vacation emphasis. But incentive trips are a good fit for ships and some agents specialize in bringing professional groups, especially doctors, to sea for continuing education seminars.

Agents can profit by reminding their business clients of the benefits that can accrue from an off-location meeting.

More than 75% of frequent business travelers surveyed by Oxford Economics in November 2012 rated conventions and conferences as key to gaining industry insights and developing industry partnerships.

Every dollar invested in business travel brings $9.50 in new revenue, the study said.

Unfortunately, many in the corporate world view a cruise as a leisure product not suitable for the serious business of business. Perhaps 2014 will be the year that changes.

Parent of Oceania and Regent files for $250M IPO

Parent of Oceania and Regent files for $250M IPO

By Tom Stieghorst
Prestige Cruise International Inc., a holding company that controls Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises, has filed a registration statement with the Securities & Exchange Commission to sell up to $250 million in stock to the public.

The company, now known as Prestige Cruise Holdings, is controlled by private equity fund Apollo Global Management. Apollo also controls Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, which went public in early 2013.

Prior to the offering, Apollo owns 59% of Prestige, the filing says.

Financial data in the filing shows that Prestige had revenue of $1.17 billion in the 12 months ended Sept. 30 and net income of $18.7 million.

It also shows the company reported net losses in 2010, 2011 and 2012 of $62.1 million, $69.7 million and $2.6 million, respectively.

The balance sheet shows long-term debt of $1.6 billion on Sept. 30.

The filing lists occupancy for the 12 months ended Sept. 30 at 94%, with a net per diem of $400 and net yield of $376.

In the prospectus, Prestige said it has more than 300,000 households in its loyalty program, and that past guests accounted for 41% of its passengers in the nine months ended Sept. 30.

Prestige said that its sales effort through travel agents is complemented by other programs, including an outbound call center in Miami with 34 sales agents focused on optimizing leads created by other marketing programs.

The filing says Prestige CEO Frank Del Rio’s base salary was $1.6 million in 2013 and will rise to $1.75 million this year.

Prestige Cruise said it intends to use proceeds from the stock offering to pay down debt.

Carnival unveils big-name musical acts for concert series

Carnival unveils big-name musical acts for concert series

By Arnie Weissmann
Carnival Live, Jennifer Hudson"American Idol" and "Dreamgirls" star Jennifer Hudson joined Carnival Cruise Lines CEO Gerry Cahill on stage to make the point that Carnival is serious about bringing big-name artists to the stages of its ships.

In April, Carnival will launch an experience branded "Carnival LIVE" featuring live performances by artists including Hudson, Chicago, Styx, .38 Special, Foreigner, Gavin DeGraw, Jewel, Kansas, LeAnn Rimes, Olivia Newton-John, REO Speedwagon, Lady Antebellum, Daughtry, Martina McBride and Trace Adkins.

The artists will join ships at homeports in Cozumel, Nassau and Catalina Island, playing the last night of one cruise and the first night of the next. The performers will be in the main show lounge, and will not be sailing.

The shows will not be included in the fare; tickets will cost $20 to $40, and can be purchased in advance through the line's web-based shore excursion system, or onboard at the shore excursion desk, if available.

VIP tickets, selling for $100 to $150 each, will include a meet-and-greet with photo opportunities, a laminated concert pass and seating in the first three rows.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Ports of contention

Ports of contention

By Tom Stieghorst
 Ports of contentionA week before the Costa Concordia ran aground in January 2012, a group of activists in Venice formed a committee to push back against the growing bulk of cruise ships there.

At first overshadowed by the drama of the Concordia accident, the group began to hold meetings, hang banners and organize demonstrations to call attention to its cause.

Among other things, the group objected to the disparity between the 12- to 15-story elevation of many cruise ships and the three- to five-story scale of the historical lagoon city.

Aided in no small part by the Concordia fallout, the Comitato No Grandi Navi struck paydirt in November, when Italy's national government placed limits on larger cruise ships in Venice, starting this month.

While praising the move, committee spokesman Silvio Testa told the Corriere del Veneto newspaper that if it was a "sweetener" to get the group to relent, activists would not be satisfied as long as the big ships are still docking anywhere inside the lagoon.

"The battle certainly doesn't stop, and continues," Testa said.

Similar tussles are taking place in other cruise ports as the scale of cruise ships continues to grow. Particularly in dense, historical ports with varied sources of tourism, the cruise industry is taking flak from organized groups opposed to expansion.

In Key West, residents recently rejected a proposed widening of the cruise channel that would have eased access for larger ships. And in Charleston, S.C., preservationists have gone to court to block plans for a more modern downtown terminal.

The three cities have even combined forces, signing a joint resolution that outlines their objections to cruise tourism and their intent to work together on an international level.

"I've heard from Alaska, from Australia, from South America," said Carrie Agnew, executive director of Charleston Communities for Cruise Control. "There are a lot of places that are suffering the same effects."

In response, cruise officials have pointed to the economic benefits they bring to port cities. They also say that they want to work cooperatively to resolve the issues in Venice and elsewhere.

But cruise officials are also said to be looking at alternatives to these ports for growth, a historical pattern whenever cruise lines have found themselves crosswise with unhappy destinations.

The angst has emerged as more and bigger ships have floated out of Europe's shipyards. Ports such as Venice can sometimes host a dozen cruise ships in a weekend, and places like Charleston are now homeports where they were once barely ports of call.
The Sea Dream I and other ships in Venice.In a quest for economies of scale, ships went supersize. Royal Caribbean International's Allure of the Seas, today's size king at 225,000 gross tons, takes up more than three times the volume of Royal's Sovereign of the Seas, which less than 30 years ago was the world's biggest cruise ship.

The larger ships can discharge thousands of passengers at a time, and several at once can combine to flood the sidewalks and alleys of towns with narrow street grids.

In Charleston, Agnew said the discomfort started in 2010 when Carnival Cruise Lines decided to homeport the Fantasy there.

"Charleston is a very small, very historic city," Agnew said. "Now you have 2,000 people coming and going in a day, with all the purveyors and provisions. You have a lot of stuff happening in the heart of the historic district."

The city's old terminal is not well sited, forcing buses through a maze of tight turns and barriers. So Charleston's mayor proposed a new, more spacious site in the district in a renovated warehouse.

Preservationists sued, and the project remains tied up in litigation.

Agnew said the worry is that a renovated terminal will bring more or bigger ships and further crowding, changing the charm and the "living historic city" that other tourists desire.

Agnew cites letters, such as one from a couple who frequent Charleston annually who said it took them 40 minutes longer to get to their hotel and upon arrival found their view blocked by a ship.

"There's nothing wrong with cruise passengers, but they want to go to the Bahamas," Agnew said. "We're worried about losing people who do want to come to Charleston."

That is also a theme in Key West, the quirky island that once declared itself the Conch Republic and tried to secede from the rest of the country. Long a naval base and a shrimping town, it has become dependent on tourism in recent years.

"We understand that tourism is our bread and butter," said Jolly Benson, head of the Key West Committee for Responsible Tourism. "But we want to make sure that the tourism we do attract is repeat business.

"We have people who have been coming back every winter for 35 years," Benson said. "And these people say, 'You know, I don't go downtown when there's two ships in town.'"

Unlike Charleston, Key West is not a homeport. But it hosted about 330 ship calls this year and is a regular stop on both eastern and western Caribbean itineraries out of South Florida.
The historical district of Key West, with a Carnival ship in the background.Planners say the current 300-foot channel leading into the harbor inhibits the deployment of newer, bigger ships. Captains sometimes have to "crab" through the channel, steering at a 15-degree angle to wind and currents, a maneuver that pushes them close to the channel's edges.

One solution is to widen part of the channel to 450 feet. A city bid to seek a U.S. Army Corps of Engineering feasibility study was opposed by 74% of Key West's 25,000 residents when put to a referendum in October.

Quality-of-life issues and a reluctance to assume Key West's part of the project's bond debt were factors, Benson said, but perhaps most important were concerns about the project's environmental impact.

The channel lies in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, home to protected species of coral and abundant sea life. The argument that silt from the project would harm the environment resonated with many who depend on fishing, diving or boating for a living, Benson said.

Environmental damage is also an issue propelling the anti-cruise forces in Venice, where the city's 1,200-year-old foundations are slowly sinking. Activists claim that water displaced from ships traveling the Giudecca Canal past Piazza San Marco on the way to the Venezia Terminal Passeggeri accelerates the erosion of building foundations.

Air pollution, another concern frequently cited, is a problem that some industry officials have acknowledged.

And tourism itself has been cast as a kind of people pollution, as nearly 20 million visitors each year flood the city of 58,000 residents. Last year, about 1.7 million visitors arrived by ship.

The No Grandi Navi (No Big Ships) committee conducted its campaign against the cruise industry in classic European fashion. Where Key West held a referendum and Charleston went to court, No Grandi Navi held street protests, or in this case, canal protests.

Activists with bullhorns shouted insults at passing ships. They organized a small-boat blockade, and in September about 50 wetsuited protesters dove into the Giudecca Canal, bobbing around like seals and blocking the passage of a dozen cruise ships.

The tactics apparently swayed Italian officials, who on Nov. 5 issued an order that reduces the number of ships over 40,000 gross tons that can ply the Giudecca route by 20% and bans ships above 96,000 gross tons from the canal entirely by next November.

The industry publicly pledged cooperation. In a statement, CLIA Europe said it viewed the decision as a positive step by the Italian government to find a sustainable and long-term solution for the city. "This goal is shared by the cruise industry," it said.

However, in the past, cruise lines have frequently responded to unfavorable local developments by redeploying ships. That happened in Alaska in 2006 after cruise opponents enacted a $46 head tax to slow the influx of passengers into small Alaska towns.

Cruise lines moved some ships elsewhere, citing reduced demand. In 2010, the tax was partly rolled back, laying the groundwork for a rebound.
A wall poster in Venice last summer advocated Big Ships Out of the Lagoon.There are alternatives to Venice in the Adriatic, said Filippo Olivetti, managing director of the Bassani Group, which provides cruise services and shore excursions in Venice.

"We know that several cruise lines are looking to Ravenna and Trieste [in northeastern Italy] as an option to homeport," Olivetti said, adding that Pullmantur has successfully used Ravenna in the past.

The industry's most powerful argument against limits on bigger ships is that they contribute revenue and jobs to the local economy. Olivetti said that studies commissioned by the Cruise Venice Committee, a group that supports the industry's growth, estimate that 2,500 jobs will be lost as a result of the new limits.

He said the ban on ships larger than 96,000 gross tons would result in a 60% decline in passengers in 2015, to about 700,000, unless they are replaced by smaller ships or an alternative is found.

"My company is going to be very affected by this tonnage limit," Olivetti said.

In Key West, too, there have been warnings that the cruise industry could go elsewhere if they have no chance to grow. A Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) report issued in November asserts that cruise lines now cannot count on putting modernized ships there and that if Cuba should open to cruise calls, the Florida port would lose business.

"It is not an exaggeration to say that, without capital investments, Key West's future as a cruise port of call is seriously in question," the report stated.

Benson said the report amounts to fear mongering, and he said that even as it is, the channel is adequate for all but a handful of ships.

The economic argument about cruise ships in Key West, as elsewhere, boils down to whether the infusion of cash and other benefits cruise passengers contribute to the local economy outweigh the costs.

Various sources cite daily spending by cruise guests of anywhere from $32 to $84, with the FDOT study citing a CLIA figure of $123.58. A $10.63-per-passenger docking fee also goes to the port and pier owners.

But 1.6 million guests who come to Key West by other means and stay overnight account for about $900 million of annual spending, according to visitors bureau estimates, compared with about $80 million for cruise guests.

Nearly 814,000 passengers arrived on some 330 ships last year. So while they account for more than a third of the visitors, they represent less than a tenth of the spending, a disparity that has the business community split over their desirability.
A banner by the No Grandi Navi committee.Shops, bars, scooter rental outlets, trolley tours and excursions near the piers tend to support the channel widening, while lodging owners and businesses off of the main drag on Duval Street tend to be opposed.

John Dolan-Heitlinger, a business consultant and head of the Key West Seaport Alliance, a pro-cruise group, said that as a small town, Key West can ill afford to give up tax revenue the cruise ships bring in.

"Everybody in town benefits from cruise ships in one way or another," he said. "As that income is reduced, the city either has to eliminate services or find other sources of funding, typically taxes and fees."

Rudy Molinet, owner of Marquis Properties Realty, one of the top residential brokerages in Key West, said that when several ships are docked at once, the 10-square-block historical district is overrun.

"There are people who directly benefit, but the people who run the bed-and-breakfast inns and the restaurants are not so for it," he said.

With so much hanging in the balance on both sides, many attempts at compromise are arising.

One solution for historical cities that still want cruise tourism growth is to move the cruise piers to another part of town. A real estate expert in Charleston has proposed an embarkation terminal at the former Navy shipyard north of the historical district.

In Venice, planners are working on a scheme to dredge an alternate channel to the Venezia Terminal Passeggeri that would let big ships avoid the Giudecca Canal. At the same time, the mayor has suggested creating a new cruise ship dock at Marghara, an industrial port on the Italian mainland.

There are no such plans yet in Key West. As the cruise industry grows, some ports might not be able to grow in parallel, observed Benson, and he's fine with that.

"We have no problem with the cruise lines that are coming in now," he said. "We realize we're at a sustainable level. If we try to go much beyond that, we're going to see a backlash in other tourism-related events. We want to make sure we keep the balance." 

Guest Post: January's good, bad and ugly on social media

Guest Post: January's good, bad and ugly on social media

By Travolution
By Travolution

By Dean Harvey, Digital Development Director at Designate.
We’re well into the New Year now and a fresh release of TV advertising from the travel industry is all over our screens, enticing us to think about sunnier days ahead and forget the gloomy weather outside.
The dynamics between established media and social media are largely unknown as it is relatively new and not yet mature (when compared to traditional media such as press, TV or radio).
Double screening* techniques are being explored by brands – such as using Twitter hashtags as part of their TV advertising.
The theory being that while watching TV you also are multi-tasking and using your smartphone or tablet. In doing so you can start or continue a conversation directly with your audience – while being prompted by your TV adverts.
A quick look at those social media ‘conversations’ can be insightful about the impact of and reaction to a campaign.
Starting with the Ugly, it’s too tempting not to include the latest opus from Thomson in this section.
It is called ‘Simon The Ogre’ after all, who by his nature is ugly. The campaign is the brainchild of Gavin McGrath, creative director at the Thomson’s agency BMB and directed by Fredrik Bond.
Described as more of a mini movie than a TV advert it depicts an ogre, representing a de-humanised Dad of a family, who gradually becomes more human again as a result of being on a Thomson holiday.
Simon is ugly, but so too is some feedback online where it seems to have divided and polarised opinion.
Here’s just some of the conversation if you are following the Thomson hashtag #MeAgain.
And at the other end of the spectrum there is lots of positive sentiment too, making this release seem as if it’s achieved a ‘Marmite’ effect where people "love it or hate it".
So for this edition of Good, Bad and Ugly it also gets my vote for being ‘Good’ too. There’s no such thing as bad publicity, right?
Also, experimenting with new dynamics but sitting in the ‘Bad’ pile is British Airways.
Using double screening, their new TV ad is featured on their YouTube channel with additional functionality - at the right time in the advert the user is invited to click into the video taking them instantly through to the right part of the website, such as the ‘holiday finder’ or the inspired ‘picture your holiday’.
Nice. Using Jake Bugg as a soundtrack can’t have been cheap – but that seems to have been the only thing that has inspired its viewers.
There’s a missed opportunity here to use a Twitter hashtag on the TV advert to guide viewers towards the additional functionality of their website.
To redeem themselves, however, BA chose instead to use an outdoor advertising campaign that directed people to Twitter.
The #lookup campaign is a storming success, using interactive poster sites with children pointing every time one of their planes flies overhead.
Take a look for yourselves and join the million-plus people that have done so.
This is a great example of exploiting the dynamics between old and new media, coming together to work hard for the brand. Very clever, very good.
*Double Screening - The art of watching TV while simultaneously surfing on a laptop, smartphone or tablet.

Carnival Corp. inks Internet deal with MTN

Carnival Corp. inks Internet deal with MTN

By Tom Stieghorst

MTN and Carnival Corp. signed a contract for Internet services on several cruise lines, including Princess, Cunard and P&O.

Also, MTN said Carnival extended their existing agreement for provision of broadcast television services. MTN Worldwide TV provides satellite television to 50 ships.

Carnival Corp. ships in Alaskan waters will continue to leverage MTN’s Terrestrial Broadband Services while in port, with the opportunity to explore the possible expansion of this service, MTN said.

New Seabourn Odyssey-class ship to accommodate more passengers

New Seabourn Odyssey-class ship to accommodate more passengers

By Tom Stieghorst

Seabourn said it signed a contract with Fincantieri for its fourth Odyssey-class ship, to be delivered in mid-2016.

The ship, which had previously been announced, will be 40,350 gross tons and have capacity for 602 passengers.

That’s more than the previous three Odyssey-class vessels, which are rated for 450 passengers. Compared with those ships, the newbuild will have an additional deck and new, expanded public areas.

The vessel will replace capacity that will be reduced when the Seabourn Pride, Seabourn Spirit, and Seabourn Legend are transferred to Windstar Cruises in April 2014, April 2015 and May 2015, respectively.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Teabags and slippers: what are Brits packing?

Teabags and slippers: what are Brits packing?

You might think that packing for a holiday is a relatively standard affair, with different people generally choosing to take the same sort of stuff with them on their cruise.

But you'd be wrong, at least partially, with research suggesting Brits are much more varied when packing for a getaway at sea.

According to a survey of 2,000 people from across the UK commissioned by Norwegian Cruise Line, some of the stranger items that people are stowing away in their luggage include teabags, which are taken by over a quarter, slippers (24 per cent won't leave the country without them) and childhood teddy bears - yes, that's right, for the adults.

The questionnaire also shed light on the changing habits of Brits travelling, with about a fifth (19.7 per cent) currently planning to take a big trip abroad this year, while just under half (44 per cent) wish to get away at some point in 2014, but don't yet have anything concrete planned.

Somewhat unsurprisingly given the state of the weather at the minute (which has, ironically been hindering cruises in the Atlantic including the Saga Ruby - on it's final ever voyage), this is the biggest thing prompting people to escape Britain, even if for a couple of weeks.

In fact, 40 per cent of people cite inclement conditions as the main thing they need a break from. Other bugbears driving people abroad are neighbours (six per cent) and people's significant others (five per cent).

Francis Riley, vice president of international markets at Norwegian Cruise Line, said: "British holidaymakers appreciate being able to explore new experiences on holidays, however like to have their home comforts and traditions with them as well."

Are there any items that you simply cannot do without when you're away on a cruise?

NCL updating pubs, not updating smoking policy

NCL updating pubs, not updating smoking policy

Norwegian Cruise Line will be updating its entire fleet with O'Sheehan's Pub, the new bar that has proven to be popular on its newest vessels - Norwegian Epic, Breakaway and Getaway.

The company's chief executive Kevin Sheehan told those in attendance for Getaway's debut in Southampton this week that efforts are also being undertaken to get more passengers to visit the pub, especially at different times of day.

According to Cruise Critic, he said: "O'Sheehan's has proved to be such a centre point for the ship, for people to gather and socialise, that we have decided to put it on all the ships."

As well as retrofitting the bar across its whole fleet, Norwegian will also be minor changes to Moderno Churrascario, moving it next to Cagney's in the middle of the ship.

Despite such alterations, Mr Sheehan added that Norwegian is not currently planning to change its policies, including those related to smoking on its ships, despite the fact that other cruise lines have recently instigated bans.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

P&O Cruises reveals new Union Flag livery

P&O Cruises reveals new Union Flag livery

P&O Cruises reveals new Union Flag livery
P&O Cruises has revealed it is changing the livery of its ships, adding a Union Flag design intended to highlight the line’s British heritage.
As part of the modernisation of their fleet the new design will feature on the bow of all ships.
The news was announced by the cruise line during Travel Weekly’s Globe Travel Awards ceremony tonight (Thursday).

The cruise line said that at 94 metres long the flag will be the longest in the world.
The line's ships will also gain blue funnels, with a rising sun motif meant to symbolise the brand's oriental heritage.
The new look will first be introduced on Aurora which goes to dry dock later this year. New ship Britannia will sport the livery when it launches in February 2015, with all other P&O ships featuring the new design by the end of 2016.
David Dingle, chief executive, said: “In our 177th year we are unveiling a new, contemporarily styled livery which symbolises all that we stand for, pointing to the future and celebrating our British heritage.
“This bold new look will make our ships yet more distinctive and recognisable across the world.
“Our ships will proudly carry on their bow Britain’s most distinctive symbol, the Union Flag, to all corners of the globe.
“The P&O Cruises name will be emblazoned along their hulls and the rising sun, the enduring symbol of our heritage, will shine from their funnels.
“This modern new look will exemplify the strengths and virtues of our company long into the future.”

Carnival will return to Norfolk

Carnival will return to Norfolk

By Tom Stieghorst
Carnival Cruise Lines will resume sailing from Norfolk, Va., in 2015, after pulling out of the port this year.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe made the announcement to the state assembly Monday evening. In an e-mail, Carnival confirmed that it would offer a series of spring and fall sailings next year.

"Specific ship, date and itinerary information is still being finalized, and more specific details are expected to be announced this spring,” the statement said.

Carnival Glory had been the only cruise ship offering roundtrip voyages from Norfolk. Carnival redeployed the Glory to Florida, citing the costs associated with the North American Emissions Control Area on sailings from Norfolk and several other East Coast ports.

Carnival has since said it expects to install emissions-scrubbing technology on many of its ships, easing the financial impact of compliance.

This year will be the first since 2001 that Carnival has not had a ship based in Norfolk. partners with marketing specialist Tradedoubler partners with marketing specialist Tradedoubler

By Travolution
By Travolution

An affiliate marketing programme is being launched by in partnership with performance marketing specialist Tradedoubler.
The online cruise agent will benefit from integrated tracking across desktop, mobile devices and landline in order to diversify its marketing channels and boost sales.
This will enable the company to capture and track all audiences, both online and offline.
Tradedoubler has also worked with to produce a creative marketing and commercial model to help drive traffic and sales to the cruise aggregator’s website.
Tradedoubler already works with travel providers such as Royal Caribbean, DFDS and Expedia. head of strategic partnerships Brendon Collins said: “Prospective consumers often want to talk to a cruise agent, even if they’ve found a discounted deal online.
“With our previous affiliate marketing campaigns, we were unable to track [once the customer was on the phone] which online promotion the lead had generated from.
“However, we will be able to track the history of the consumer’s purchase journey from start to finish and the network of publishers accordingly, thanks to Tradedoubler’s seamlessly integrated tracking tool.”
Dan Cohen, regional director at Tradedoubler added: “Affiliate marketing programmes progressively need to be integrated through multiple channels and be tracked, to capture optimal audiences and maximise the return-on-investment for the advertiser.
“By being able to track the full purchase journey, advertisers will gain insight to keep re-modelling and evolving their affiliate marketing programmes, to further drive traffic and sales.”

Princess Cruises campaign includes TV ads

Princess Cruises campaign includes TV ads

By Tom Stieghorst

Princess Cruises will return to television for the first time in a decade with a $20 million ad campaign built around the slogan “Come Back New.”

The campaign will unfold in national and regional magazines, on radio and in digital formats, but the bulk of the spending will go to broadcast and cable television.

The ads will focus on personal experiences at sea, with photography to capture the idea that “a moment can transform you forever.”

Princess President Jan Swartz said they were inspired by passenger stories, “about how they return from their cruise vacation feeling rejuvenated and more closely connected with their loved ones, and with fresh perspectives stimulated by the beauty of the ocean, of the world and other cultures they visited, and their onboard experiences.”

The new TV spots will launch during the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards Red Carpet Show airing on the CW Network on Jan. 16.

The ads show a father carrying his happily exhausted daughter along the Promenade Deck. Other ads show couples who discover the value of time together, and how a day exploring Italy can inspire a surprising twist from the expected.

The parallel print campaign will "evoke the enriching possibilities of Princess’ worldwide cruise destinations,” an announcement said.

The campaign was created by the Goodby, Silverstein & Partners agency in San Francisco.

Carnival introduces price guarantee for shore excursions

Carnival introduces price guarantee for shore excursions

By Tom Stieghorst
Carnival horseback ridingCarnival Cruise Lines is offering a best-price guarantee on its shore excursions.

Carnival said the guarantee is unprecedented and is available now fleet-wide.

Guests who find the same tour offered by another operator at a lower price than their booked excursion (before or during their cruise) can complete a claim form to receive 110% of the difference in the form of a shipboard credit.

Claims are typically processed within 24 to 48 hours, Carnival said.

Mico Cascais, Carnival's vice president of tour operations, said the guarantee was developed based on research findings that passengers, particularly first-time cruisers, are concerned about whether they are getting the best deal.

Companies that represent excursion operators independent of the cruise lines say they can offer better prices because they work on lower markups. In many cases, passengers can buy excursions directly from excursion operators.

Carnival said that by booking through the cruise line, passengers get tickets delivered to their staterooms and "an assurance that they will receive a refund or the excursion time will be adjusted as needed based on weather or other issues affecting a ship’s scheduled
Mico Cascais, visit."

To file a claim, Carnival said passengers should provide the name of the competitor offering the comparable tour, the excursion name, where the tour was advertised, the duration, price and any included items such as lunch, drinks, transportation and admission fees.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Carnival enters marketing partnership with casino operator

Carnival enters marketing partnership with casino operator

By Tom Stieghorst

Carnival Cruise Lines said club members at 18 casinos run by Penn National Gaming will get offers of complimentary cruises, starting in April.

The offers will be based on the level of play and are part of a marketing alliance between the two companies.

Penn National Gaming operates casinos and racetracks throughout the U.S., including the M Resort near Las Vegas and several Hollywood-branded casinos.

Gaye Gullo, Penn's corporate vice president of marketing, said the Carnival offers would be another tool to reward loyalty to its casinos.

A joint announcement of the deal did not say how many player club members would be targeted in the marketing program.

Authority assures that Panama Canal widening will be completed

Authority assures that Panama Canal widening will be completed

By Tom Stieghorst
The Panama Canal Authority has reaffirmed its intent to finish its expansion project by mid-2015, despite a payment dispute with contractors.

A consortium led by Spanish construction company Sacyr threatened last week to suspend work on Jan. 20 if the Panama Canal Authority did not pay for $1.6 billion in cost overruns.

In a statement, the authority said its contract includes guarantees that will allow the completion of the new locks, even if it needs to step in to assume control of the project.

The authority stressed that the dispute relates only to the expansion and is not affecting current operations.

The $5.25 billion widening project will allow for longer, deeper ships to pass through the canal, which was built in 1914. The project is 72% done, the authority said.

According to Agence France-Presse, the Spanish government has begun mediating the dispute, and the Spanish minister of public works flew to Panama on Monday to talk to both sides.

Grupo Unidos por el Canal blames the cost overrun on faulty geological studies done by the authority.

In its statement, the authority said the arguments raised by Grupo "lack legal basis, are not clear and do not give any reasons for the contractor to suspend the work."