Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Travel business leaders warned not to fall behind on technology

Travel business leaders warned not to fall behind on technology

By Travolution
By Travolution

Travel and tourism business leaders must embrace the challenge of constantly changing technology or fail, according to a leading technology consultant.
Jerry Noonan, global consumer practice leader at Spencer Stuart, told the World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit:
"The change in strategic importance of technology to business is a challenge for business leaders.
"It is a rapidly changing dynamic and there are countless examples of businesses that have been slow to change."
He said: "It requires business leaders to remain curious and continuously learning."
Noonan insisted: "It is something everyone who leads in travel needs to think about."
"The primary purchase pattern that defined the travel industry has fundamentally changed. This is not a static moment. This is an accelerating set of forces."
Value Retail chief executive Desiree Bollier said: "Technology is disruptive but if we don't make it part of our business we will fall behind."
However, Henrik Kjellberg, president of travel website Hotwire and chairman of Chinese online travel agent eLong, argued: "The consumer is just in a much better position than 15 years ago and who would want to go back?"
He added: "I sit on the board at eLong. At the start we were saying 'This is what you should think about.' Now I just steal everything and take it back to the US. In China they are just way ahead of everyone."
Kjellberg also suggested: "The sharing economy will have a profound impact on the industry. It is a bandwagon and will grow. It is something technology does really well."
Jami Timmons, president of nSight, argued: "There needs to be ongoing investment. It is no good to invest in technology and then never look at it again."
She argued: "There is a ton of ways to use the massive amount of data in hospitality."
Kjellberg was less impressed, arguing: "Big data does not necessarily give you big insight. It can be very costly from a time perspective. It is easy to get distracted by Big Data."

The 20 Best 'Free' Things to Do on a Cruise 

The 20 Best 'Free' Things to Do on a Cruise
Cruise travelers who feel like they get onboard and immediately start emptying their pockets of nickels and dimes are not alone. Today's mainstream mega-ships offer an ever-increasing number of eating, drinking and entertainment options that levy fees atop the base fare. Long gone are the days when a perilous bar bill was the only onboard financial concern. Surcharges and add-ons are here to stay.

But there are plenty of noteworthy experiences still included in the ticket price, including Vegas-style shows, thin crust pizza and simple pleasures like free toothpaste or shaving cream. Sure, (optional) surcharges are the new at-sea reality, but it's still more than possible to find $0.00 on your final bill. Check out our list of the best "free" cruise offerings, and share your own favorites in the comments below.
  • Wondering what's not included in the fare? See our story on hidden fees -- and how to fight back.
1. Blue Man Group. Norwegian Epic is one of only a handful of venues in the world where you can watch the confused blue mutes of the Blue Man Group perform their out-of-this-world percussion-and-paint mime melee -- and it's surcharge free. So put on your poncho, and get ready to get splattered.

2. Cruising's Best Pizza. Long prized by Cruise Critic readers for its best-at-sea slices, Carnival gave its cooked-to-order pizza a makeover on Carnival Breeze in 2012. And it got better. We're not talking wood-fired-from-Naples good, but the palate-pleasing pies exhibit an impressive balance of (thin) crust, sauce and cheese -- and they come fresh from the convection oven fee-free. It's rolled out that pizza on numerous ships across the line.

3. Sunset Over the Ocean.
 It's one of the most beautiful sights in nature, and it doesn't cost a 15-cent piece extra. Grab a loved one's hand (or your favorite cocktail), walk over to the ship's railing, and take a deep breath. You've seen it before, sure, but watching the sunset over the ocean never fails to give you that, "I'm on vacation, and life is good" moment. Enjoy.

4. Ham & Cheese Croissant-wiches. When is a sandwich more than just sliced bread and filling? When it's Royal Caribbean's addictive ham and cheese mini-croissant, a flaky, cheese-y, three-bite morsel topped with lettuce, tomato, mustard and mayo. The fee-free mini-wich has long been a staple in Royal Caribbean's signature 24-hour Cafe Promenade. One word of warning: Post-cruise 'wich withdrawal can be severe.

5. Big-Screen Wii Battles. If you've been honing your video-gaming skills, but never had an audience who could appreciate your expertise, you're in luck. The entire Norwegian Cruise Line fleet is outfitted with Nintendo's interactive gaming system, Wii. "Boxing," "bowling" and other tournaments are offered on most sailings. We recommend you show off properly on the two-story screen in the atrium.

6. All-You-Can Eat Indian. To us, the lack of line for Carnival's fee-free Tandoor dining option is hard to fathom. The aromatic grab-and-go counter, typically open for lunch, serves up Indian comfort food made by the line's Indian cooks. Dig into grilled meats and fish, curries, daals and basmati rice alongside essential accouterments like mint chutney, raita and achar (pickle).

7. Dancing Lessons. Country line-dancing, waltz and tango, the electric slide -- cruise ships are great places to try out a variety of dance genres without enrolling in Arthur Murray classes (which would levy a fee besides). It's okay to have two left feet -- until you try out your new steps during pre-dinner live music. The couples there have been burning up dance floors for decades. And on P&O Cruises there's also the opportunity to learn some moves from the professional dancers of Strictly Come Dancing onboard selected sailings.

8. Milk and Cookies. You're lounging poolside in the afternoon, and all of a sudden you get a craving for something sweet -- but you're perfectly comfortable and don't want to move. What do you do? If you're onboard a Princess cruise, you relax while the waitstaff bring over fresh, soft-baked cookies and ice-cold milk. And then you silently wish that you could afford to employ someone to do the same for you at home.

9. Free Cabin Toiletries. We can't figure out why, but finding Carnival's famous complimentary in-cabin toiletry baskets always inspires a stupid grin. Inclusions rotate, but on our last Carnival cruise, we sucked on cherry Ludens, and kept hair frizz-free with Pantene conditioner and teeth from turning brown with Arm & Hammer whitening toothpaste. It's the little things.

10. Surfing at Sea. At-sea surf simulators first debuted onFreedom of the Seas, offering passengers a chance to surf and boogie-board, minus the ocean. It's now on a number of ships throughout the Royal Caribbean fleet. Although it's free to participate, you'll have to sign a waiver, hold on to your bikini top and embrace the possibility of public humiliation by way of wipeout. Not the daredevil type? It's also free to grab a seat on the nearby bleachers and enjoy the spills.

11. AquaSpa Cafe. With its AquaSpa Cafe concept, Celebrity Cruises is out to prove that healthy cruising is not an oxymoron. The bathrobed, post-gym or -spa treatment crowd flock to the fee-free venue, which proffers salads, sushi and other light-fare foods alongside a few a la carte items (grilled pork, poached salmon). The standard location, Celebrity's lovely adults-only, glass-covered Solarium, provides just the right backdrop for the guilt-free offerings.

12. Poolside Milkshakes. Most ships do free soft-serve ice cream, but Oceania Cruises steps it up a notch with three flavors of milkshakes (vanilla, chocolate and strawberry) made to order by the pool deck. The ambience is way nicer than a diner, but the treat is just as tasty.

13. Outdoor Movies. The flicks may not be first-run, but admission is free, and you can bring in treats from your cabin or the buffet without having to smuggle them under your jacket. Lido Deck movie screens are even more romantic than the real deal, with prime viewing from the pool by day and on snuggly loungers covered with warm blankets (and popcorn!) at night.

14. Climbing the Mast. Tall ship line Star Clippers lets you embrace your inner pirate by allowing passengers to climb one of the masts up to a crow's nest lookout. As you sway gently, high above the ocean, you'll get one-of-a-kind views -- if your eyes aren't shut tight in acrophobic terror. (Don't worry though: the line doesn't let anyone climb without a harness.)

15. People-watching. There is no better free entertainment than positioning a chair in a high-traffic zone on the pool deck, promenade or atrium and watching the antics of your shipmates. From fashion snafus to bizarre behavior and juicy conversations overheard, what you witness on a cruise ship can rival the best reality TV.

16. Time to Make Eat the Donuts. Sick of paying extra for sweets at the "specialty cafe"? Step out onto Oasis of the Seas' Coney Island-style Boardwalk, and grab a surcharge-free donut at the onboard, er, donut shop. With a rotating lineup of flavors from glazed to key lime, you're sure to find something you'll like. (Coffee and other items are also available there, but you'll pay up to $4 for them.)

17. Broadway Onboard. In the mood to see a Broadway show without paying Broadway ticket prices? You're in luck. Check out "Hairspray" on Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas, "Chicago" on Allure of the Seas, "Saturday Night Fever" on Liberty of the Seas, "Rock of Ages" on Norwegian Breakaway or "Legally Blonde: the Musical" on Norwegian Getaway. You can also catch West End and TV stars such as illusionist Derren Brown and classical singing star Russell Watson. And the best thing about this entertainment? -- it's all gratis.

18. Bathrobes for All. Carnival takes a proletariat approach to cabins -- there are no 1,000-square-foot suites with baby grand pianos on the Fun Ships. And everyone, from the inside cabin occupier to the passenger in the modest-sized suite, gets a bathrobe. Who is to decree that only cruisers with money should be able to spend their post-shower moments in comfort? Not Carnival. (Note: Holland America also provides robes to all.)

19. Coronary Burgers. If you're craving a complimentary heart attack on a bun, give one (or several) of Guy Fieri's burgers a try at Guy's Burger Joint. This fee-free venue will be added to the pool decks of 14 Carnival ships through 2015, offering burgers on buttered buns with a choice of toppings like blue cheese crumbles, onion rings and chipotle mayonnaise.

20. Mini-Golf. For anyone who wants to avoid crowds and catch some sun without lazing by the pool, top-deck mini-golf is a great option -- and it's free. Offered on some Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Disney, Princess and MSC ships, to name a few, the courses generally aren't a full 18 holes, but they can still be challenging, as your putting will be affected by the ship's movement. For an even more competitive twist, join a mini-golf competition, usually offered once per sailing.

MSC Cruises changes course for Divina

MSC Cruises changes course for Divina

By Tom Stieghorst
MSC Divina Cruising the Caribbean Video

MSC Cruises said the MSC Divina, a ship that was scheduled to sail year-round from Miami, will be moved to the Mediterranean for summer 2015 before returning for the winter of 2015-16 in the Caribbean.

The ship began sailing from Miami in November and was the centre piece of an MSC marketing campaign in North America. It will continue on current Caribbean itineraries for the rest of 2014 and the first four months of 2015.

In a statement, MSC Cruises USA President Rick Sasso said “customer surveys are showing an increased desire for North Americans to sail onboard MSC Divina in the Mediterranean."

Industry-wide, Caribbean pricing has suffered from a glut of capacity this year, while demand for European cruises has been surprisingly strong, especially from North America. The weak economies in several European countries and high airfares led some cruise lines to reduce capacity in Europe this year.

MSC said the changes to Divina designed to bring it more in line with American tastes will remain in place for its summer in Europe. Upon returning in the fall of 2015 to the U.S., Divina will get some “surprise enhancements” for the North American market.

In a conference call with analysts earlier Tuesday, Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Kevin Sheehan mentioned the Divina move, saying its arrival in Miami was a significant addition to capacity in the Caribbean that would be removed next summer. 

Fleet expansion helps Norwegian Cruise Line boost revenue

Fleet expansion helps Norwegian Cruise Line boost revenue

By Tom Stieghorst
Norwegian Cruise Line reported a net profit of $51.7 million in the first quarter, up from a $97.5 million loss a year ago.

Revenue rose 25.8%, to $664 million.

Results were helped by the addition of Norwegian Breakaway to the fleet in May 2013 and the Norwegian Getaway in January 2014.

After various special items are excluded, Norwegian said its adjusted first-quarter profit was $49.6 million, up from $12.9 million a year earlier.

Norwegian said it has authorized the buyback of up to $500 million of its stock. CEO Kevin Sheehan said the program allows Norwegian to be “flexible and opportunistic” in repurchasing shares at attractive levels.

The company completed a public offering in January 2013.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Regal Princess coming along nicely

Regal Princess coming along nicely

Regal Princess, the newest ship to be developed by Princess Cruises, is well on track to make its debut next month.

According to reports, the new vessel has successfully completed five days of sea trials this week. The trials involve a number of special manoeuvres being carried out at sea in order to test the ship’s propulsion systems ahead of its launch.

The tests are also used to ensure that steering and navigation equipment is all up to standard and at the ready. Following its successful completion of the exercises, the ship returned to the Fincantieri shipyard in Italy, where it will receive finishing touches to its exterior and interior.

The 3,600 passenger sister vessel to Royal Princess will be officially launched by the cruise line in May.

Among its most noteworthy features are an opulent new atrium with a truly regal colour scheme (lots of gold), designer ice creams at the Gelato bar and Princess’s largest theatre yet at see. It is also equipped with numerous pools and spas, as well as The Sanctuary, its signature relaxation haven just for adults.

FINCANTIERI: "REGAL PRINCESS" LAUNCHED IN MONFALCONE - The largest ship ever built by the Italian group

"Regal Princess”, the new flagship of the Princess Cruises fleet owned by the Carnival Group, the world's largest cruise ship operator, was launched today at Fincantieri’s Monfalcone shipyard. 

Delivery is scheduled for spring 2014, while its sister ship, “Royal Princess”, launched last august, will be delivered in the first half of this year. 
Attending the ceremony for Princess Cruises were Rai Caluori, Executive Vice President Fleet Operations, and Stuart Hawkins, Vice President Newbuilding. Representing Fincantieri were, among others, Enrico Buschi, Chief Operative Officer, and Carlo De Marco, Shipyard Manager. Godmother of the ceremony was Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of Cruise Critic, the most influential cruise industry website and cruise passenger online community. 

The construction of "Regal Princess" consolidates Fincantieri’s primacy in building the largest passenger ships in Italian shipbuilding history. In fact, at 141,000 gross tons, 330 metres long and 38 metres wide, the new ship is the largest ship ever built by Fincantieri. It has 1,780 cabins, of which 1,438 with balconies (81% of the total), and is able to accommodate 3,600 passengers, with total capacity for over 5,600 people including crew.

As an innovative prototypes for a new ground-breaking class of ship, "Regal” and “Royal Princess" stands out for their new "future-proof design", not only in terms of layout and state-of-the-art performance, but also because they comply with the most recent regulations in shipping. These ships are the best proof that innovation and care of a customer like the Carnival Group, the market leader, are essential levers for tackling a crisis like that at present.
Among the keystones of this trend are the rational use of space, with the aim of avoiding any wasted tonnage that would otherwise increase operating costs, and energy saving to reduce emissions into the atmosphere and water. The ships will be able to adapt to every possible type of cruise, operating from Alaska to Australia, even in environmentally protected areas where navigation is restricted. 
Fincantieri has built 63 cruise ships since 1990, including 13 only for Princess Cruises. Another 11 ships are being built or about to be built in the Group's yards.  

Norwegian Epic to call at Southampton

Norwegian Epic to call at Southampton

Norwegian Epic is to return to Southampton for the first time in five years from 2015, marking its first return to the port since its inaugural celebration in June 2010.

According to Travelmole, the ship will sail to the UK port during its two Iberian Peninsula cruises, which are scheduled for September and October next year.

First up is a six-night sailing departing from Barcelona on September 20th. Then, the first of the two cruises will depart from Southampton on September 26th, with port calls in Cartagena, Granada and Lisbon.

After that, there’s a seven-night cruise from Southampton to Barcelona on the cards, departing on October 11th. In the interim, the ship is scheduled to go into the dry dock in France.

There’s likely to be plenty more visits to the UK for Norwegian Epic once the ship relocates its home port to the Catalan city of Barcelona on a permanent basis.

At that point, it will offer year-round sailings to the Western Mediterranean and the Canary Islands and Morocco.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Quark Expeditions offers first Arctic land program

Quark Expeditions offers first Arctic land program

By Tom Stieghorst

Quark Expeditions, a specialist in polar adventure cruises, said that for the first time it will offer a land vacation in the Canadian Arctic.

Beginning June 30 and running for six weeks through Aug. 13, 2015, Quark will partner with Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge to offer a week-long adventure camp experience.

The lodge sits on Somerset Island just above the Arctic Circle and is the northernmost lodge in Canada, Quark said. It features private lodging for two, locally sourced gourmet dining and guided activities such as hiking, kayaking, river rafting and exploring the Arctic tundra in all-terrain vehicles and a Mercedes Unimog.

It is known as a prime site for beluga whale watching.

Prices start at $7,995 per person based on double occupancy, plus a mandatory transfer package for $1,690. There is a maximum of 26 guests per departure.

Comment: Cruise industry must take China's rise on board

Comment: Cruise industry must take China's rise on board

Comment: Cruise industry must take China's rise on board
Following the announcement of the deployment of Royal Caribbean’s newest ship year-round from Shanghai next year, David Selby assesses the significance of the decision and the impact on established markets
China is vast - it has a population over 20 times that of the UK and is the world’s second largest country by land mass.
Between 2007 and 2011, its economy grew at the rate of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States combined – and while we dither in the UK about where the next commercial airport capacity will be situated, around two-thirds of the world’s airports are being built in China, with 55 planned between 2013 and 2015!
Shanghai is China’s biggest city, with a population of over 22 million, according to the last National Population Census in 2010. While a significant number of residents still have insufficient income or interest in cruising, it was perhaps only a matter of time before a major international cruise line would announce year-round deployment from the city, as Royal Caribbean has done.
The fact that it is its newest and “shiniest” ship, Quantum of the Seas, does make it interesting. It goes against the traditional idea of growing “new to cruise” markets typically using older tonnage, and keeping the key markets fresh with the newest innovation hardware.
During last week’s announcement, Adam Goldstein, Royal Caribbean’s president and chief operating officer, said: "Every trend we are seeing in China tells us we can achieve real long-term competitive advantage and appealing returns on our investments in this fast-growing market by accelerating our presence there. We will have to be nimble, but the ability to move fast is one of our strengths."
I agree! It comes from having – in my view – the strongest single international cruise brand in the world.
Meanwhile, analysis commissioned last year by the Asia Cruise Association predicts a market size in Asia by 2020 of 3.8m, of which China will be 1.7m – just below what the UK is today. Cruises are typically of short duration and to serve 3.8m cruisers on 5 night voyages, the region will need the equivalent of eighteen 3,000 berth ships sailing in the region year round. It is unlikely to stop there.
Where will they come from, and what of traditional core markets?
Well, Royal Caribbean points out that the ports of Florida (with ships sailing to the Caribbean – the most popular cruising destination), will be operating with record levels, while from New York passengers will have the chance to cruise on ships not previously deployed from there.
In the UK of course, we look forward to seeing Anthem of the Seas – Quantum’s sister-ship – sailing from Southampton after she is launched next year. Longer term however, we could see a general shift away from current core markets unless there is an acceleration of new-build activity.
For the remainder of this year, apart from Quantum, there are just three ships over 2000 berths being launched worldwide – for Princess, Costa and Tui in Germany. Next year there are five, in 2016 there are six and in 2017 there are so far just three. While this may increase, it is barely enough to cover the Asian growth over the next six years.
Therefore, the challenge is on for the industry in traditional markets to keep the product and marketing fresh, to drive value and deliver exceptional levels of customer service – and the same goes for the destinations the ships visit.
Looking even further ahead – once the Chinese have tried cruising at a local level, they will without doubt be cruising further afield and coming to Europe.
So while we sort out the runway problem, it would be a good idea to sort out the UK Visa situation at the same time.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Sampling Celebrity’s new spa provider

Sampling Celebrity’s new spa provider

By Tom Stieghorst
*InsightCelebrity Cruises had a nice reward for two of the 1,200 agents that attended CLIA’s Cruise3sixty event in Fort Lauderdale. They were picked for a free spa package aboard the Celebrity Reflection.

The two surprise winners were Rosie Perez, a Cruise Planners agent in Pembroke Pines, Fla., and Marcia Finkelstein, a vacation specialist at CruiseOne in Long Branch, N.J. “They were ecstatic — beside themselves,” said Dondra Ritzenthaler, Celebrity sales V.P.

What made the prize a little more special was the changeover in spa providers at Celebrity. The two agents were among the first to be treated by Canyon Ranch SpaClub staffers, who replaced the previous team from Steiner Leisure at the end of March.

Other than signage and a new area for retailing beauty products, there wasn’t much physical change to the spa, which includes two decks of treatment rooms linked by a spiral staircase; a hair salon; a Persian Garden area of heated ceramic loungers; areas for acupuncture, weight lifting and aerobics; and a relaxation area with a panoramic view that is just down the hall from the spa-oriented Aqua Class cabins.

“It’s almost like their front room,” said spa director Daniel Foxcroft.

The difference between Steiner and Canyon Ranch will come in the products and the people, Foxcroft said.

Gloria Weller, a retired information technology worker from Orlando, was one of the passengers getting ready to cruise on the Reflection who headed for the spa even before sailing.

After a five-minute Thai massage sampler, Weller said the deep muscle massage was very relaxing for her but wouldn’t be for everyone. “If you just want a feel-good massage, you wouldn’t do this.”

Finkelstein said her 80-minute package, which included a sea salt bath and full-body massage, was a very nice treatment. She said the Canyon Ranch name would probably influence a lot of people to go on Celebrity.

Peter Smith, president of Canyon Ranch, certainly hopes so. He got his first glimpse of the Reflection spa at a dedication during Cruise3sixty and said he “loved” the space, which is perched on the forward areas of decks 11 and 12, with floor-to-ceiling views.

Celebrity was smart to reward a few of the more than 200 agents who signed up to tour the Reflection during the conference. There were 24 ships to tour at Cruise3sixty, and providing a little extra incentive will help gain more exposure for its vessels going forward.

“You never know what you’re going to see,” said Perez in explaining why she chose to tour the Reflection. “You can’t sell something unless you see it.”

Friday, 25 April 2014

Carnival gets bigger in Texas

Carnival gets bigger in Texas

By Jerry Limone
Carnival FreedomCarnival Cruise Lines will have three ships based in Galveston when the Carnival Freedom joins the Magic and Triumph at the Texas port next February.

Carnival said no other cruise line has deployed three year-round ships in Texas.

“In partnership with the Port of Galveston and the local community, we have been able to increase our passenger counts fivefold since we first launched service from Galveston in 2000,” Carnival Cruise Lines CEO Gerry Cahill said. “Additionally, we are extremely grateful for the support of our travel agent partners who have played a key role in the growth of our Texas cruise program.”

Before arriving in Galveston, the 3,000-passenger Freedom will undergo a previously announced makeover that will add Fun Ship 2.0 product enhancements, including Guy’s Burger Joint, BlueIguana Cantina, RedFrog Pub and the Camp Ocean kids' club.

Carnival Freedom will sail a 12-day repositioning cruise departing Fort Lauderdale on Feb. 2, arriving in Galveston on Feb. 14. The cruise will call in St. Kitts, St. Lucia, Curacao, Aruba and Grand Cayman.

The Freedom will kick off its new schedule from Galveston with a six-day Caribbean voyage to Costa Maya, Mexico; Belize; and Cozumel. Following the six-day voyage, the Freedom will sail seven-day Caribbean cruises year-round.

Royal Outlook Improves

Post-Wave bookings on a tear, says Royal Caribbean chairman

By Tom Stieghorst
Allure of the SeasRoyal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. reported an unusual surge in bookings in from mid-February to mid-April, a stretch when the booking pace typically decelerates.

Company chairman Richard Fain said that while the Wave season had been merely “typical,” which was slightly concerning, bookings in the past eight weeks were up more than 20%, driven by promotions.

“The volumes have just been unprecedented,” for a period in which the booking pace usually slackens, Fain said in a conference call with Wall Street analysts on Thursday.

He said promotions such as Royal Caribbean International’s Kids Sail Free and Celebrity Cruises’ 123Go had allowed RCCL to make up most of the booking deficit it had going into the last week of February.

Although occupancy levels are surging, pricing remains lower than a year ago. Fain also said “quality demand” in regions outside the Caribbean is contributing to the surge.

RCCL profit falls 65%, but outlook improves

By Tom Stieghorst
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. raised its 2014 earnings guidance by a nickel a share despite reporting lower earnings for the first quarter.

Net income was $26.5 million, or 12 cents a share, in the quarter ended March 31, down from $76.2 million, or 35 cents per share, in 2013.

But Royal Caribbean said booking volume for the past three months have risen 16% year-over-year, with bookings for the past 8 weeks up by more than 20%, stronger than typical post-Wave periods.

The company raised its profit forecast by 5 cents a share, or about $11 million, to between $719.2 million and $763.5 million.

"Despite pressures in the Caribbean, the diversity provided by our global footprint is proving its value," CFO Jason Liberty said.

In 2013, Royal Caribbean earned $473.7 million.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Ryanair tumbles down Google rankings following site revamp

Ryanair tumbles down Google rankings following site revamp

By Travolution
By Travolution

Ryanair’s website was sent tumbling down the Google results rankings for important search terms following a revamp that was meant to boost the airline’s brand image and make it easier for customers to book flights.
Ryanair had top ten positions in Google’s search rankings for terms such as “flights to France”.
But in recent weeks it has tumbled down the rankings, and searches for many relevant terms no longer include Ryanair in the top 100 results, according to data from web analytics company Intelligent Positioning.
Internet analysts believe the search problems are an unintended consequence of the revamp of the website, the Financial Times reported on Friday.
“They’ve screwed up big time,” said Sam Silverwood-Cope of Intelligent Positioning, a web analytics company told the FT. “There’s going to be a hell of a lot of traffic that they’re missing.”
When Ryanair restructured its website in March and April, it created a new set of URLs, but failed to correctly redirect the old pages. This resulted in Google seeing the defunct pages, and awarding a lower ranking, according to the report.
In response, Ryanair said that most of the 1.2 million hits a day on its website were from direct visitors, rather than those who came via search engines. It said bookings this quarter were about 5% higher than the same period last year.
According to Hitwise data provided by Intelligent Positioning, Ryanair gets about a fifth of its web traffic through search engines.
Ryanair said it was in the process of migrating various old website pages to its new site and it expected to be able to regain first page rankings on important search terms once completed.
“Until the site settles down, there will be a temporary drop in organic search positions on certain key search terms,” the carrier said. “We anticipate that it will take a week or so for things to bed down properly.”
The website overhaul was a central part of Ryanair’s strategy to rebrand itself as a friendlier, more caring airline and win back lost custom. It unveiled a preview of its new-look website a few weeks ago – highlighting that the number of clicks needed to book a flight had fallen from 17 to five.
Gerald Khoo, transport analyst at Liberum, told the FT that struggles with search engine optimisation could have a financial impact.
“There clearly is an issue that they don’t appear where they’d like to [in the search rankings],” he said.

Norwegian Getaway's magic touch

Norwegian Getaway's magic touch

By Tom Stieghorst
Norwegian Getaway Illusionarium Theater EntranceFor the past decade, Norwegian Cruise Line has tried at the very least to be different from its much larger contemporary rivals.

The fruits of that campaign are paying off in the new Breakaway-class ships, nowhere more so than in the Norwegian Getaway's Illusionarium, a space that offers one of the most compelling shows at sea in a custom-designed setting that will be hard to duplicate.

The Illusionarium dinner/magic show combines comic elements, audience interaction and cutting-edge steampunk atmospherics with inspired props, costumes and backdrops.

All of this is wrapped together quite satisfyingly in a story arc about the grandson of a famed Victorian magician getting set to auction the family collection of magical treasures.

The grandfather comes to life and conjures the spirits of great magicians of his time to show the young lad a few things. Each act arrives with a fantastic display on the domed ceiling of the Illusionarium.
Norwegian Getaway Illusionarium TheaterThe room is set up in circular fashion, with long tables radiating like spokes from the stage. It is certainly worth the extra money to get a floor seat ($29.99) rather than a banquette ($24.99). The closer to the stage, the better the view of the planetarium-like oculus.

You'll barely remember the food, a surf-and-turf duo, as your attention is riveted to the performers. There is levitation, box tricks with a woman emerging after several swords have been inserted into the crate she's concealed in, hypnotism, sleight of hand and an astounding numbers trick.

One appeal of the Illusionarium is sitting 10 feet from the tricks and still being dumbfounded at the results. "You're almost sitting on the stage and you can't figure out what's going on," said Norwegian Sales Vice President Andy Stuart.

The final act is the grandson, Jonathan Rice, played by a wickedly funny Jeff Hobson, who conceived the show and recruited the magicians.

The Illusionarium, which takes the space occupied by Cirque Dreams on the Breakaway and Epic, seats 232. Views in the back of the room are aided by TV monitors set in the ceiling.

Kim Weinstein, who works for a consulting firm in Boynton Beach, Fla., occupied a rear banquette at the show I attended, and her only complaint was a support pole blocking her view. "Other than that it was fine," she said. "Better than I was expecting."

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

No break in river lines’ France fever

No break in river lines’ France fever

By Michelle Baran
InsightThere appears to be no end in sight to the growth in demand for river cruising in France. Last fall, I wrote about river cruise companies that were adding more capacity throughout the country for 2014, and the trend is continuing into 2015.

Avalon Waterways announced this week that it will increase its France capacity for 2015 by 95%. The company is putting its 128-passenger Avalon Poetry II, christened last month in Dordrecht, Netherlands, on the Saone and Rhone rivers in 2015; and the 128-passenger Avalon Tapestry II, launching next year, will sail France’s Seine River.

That comes after an already huge christening season in France that saw Viking put three new ships in Provence, Uniworld launch its new S.S. Catherine there as well, and both companies introduce one vessel each in Bordeaux (Viking a newbuild and Uniworld a repositioned vessel).

“We are very excited about the growth opportunity in France,” said Richard Marnell, Viking’s senior vice president of marketing. “Because of strong demand already this season, we have decided to increase capacity on those two itineraries in 2015. We will add a second ship, Viking Rinda, in Bordeaux, and a fourth ship on Portraits of Southern France, Viking Delling, which will be new for 2015.

“We also continue to see strong demand for our other itineraries in France and are nearly sold out for the entire summer season,” added Marnell.

AmaWaterways, Tauck and Scenic Cruises all repositioned vessels to France this year as well.

Direct-to-consumer operator Grand Circle Cruise Line announced last month that it was getting in on the France action too, having acquired the River Cloud II (from Sea Cloud Cruises), a 90-passenger ship that will operate a new itinerary in Bordeaux beginning in March.

And let’s not forget the little 96-passenger paddlewheeler, Loire Princess, that French river cruise company CroisiEurope plans on introducing on France’s Loire River next April.

So, what’s the deal? Are river cruise lines running out of space on the Danube? Or are river cruise passengers just embracing France with a new fervor? Guessing it might be a bit of both.

New data show booming sales for travel professionals

New data show booming sales for travel professionals

By Kate Rice
Growth chartDespite lingering perceptions that travel agents are a dying breed, newly released industry figures reveal that business is booming for agencies of all types and sizes. The greatest challenge to their growth, in fact, is not a surfeit of online competition but a deficit of manpower.

The data were part of a report ASTA released last week based on a survey that found more than half its members reporting increases in revenue — i.e., commissions and fees — as well as growth in numbers of both transactions and customers for the second year in a row.

At the same time, major agency marketing groups, from regional consortia to global enterprises, are reporting double-digit increases in sales of suppliers’ products, many of them high-margin products.

The new data fly in the face of a persistent myth that the Internet is putting agents out of business.

“To paraphrase Mr. Twain, the reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated,” said Mike Estill, COO of the Western Association of Travel Agencies (Westa). He said his members’ total sales for 2013 were up 10% over 2012, itself a banner year. In some segments, such as luxury cruises, he said, they were seeing better than 25% growth rates, and 2014 is already well ahead of 2013.

John Werner, president and COO of the Midwest consortium MAST Travel Network, said that in 2013, total sales for all suppliers were up 17%, and 2014 sales are currently up 10% to 30%, depending on the supplier.

“Agencies are reporting that customers are coming back to them after having tried planning some of their trips themselves,” Werner said. For many agents, the problem is not a lack of customers but a lack of travel professionals.

“Many of our members have said to me they could handle more business if they could hire another experienced travel agent,” Werner said.

Likewise, Steve Loucks, chief communications officer for the Travel Leaders Group, said the biggest challenge for retail travel was not online competition but a lack of manpower.

He said Travel Leaders Group, which includes the Travel Leaders franchise, the consortium and the host agency Nexion, has been “vigorously working to attract new talent.”

Travel Leaders Group has grown from $6 billion in sales in 2007 to more than $20 billion in 2013. Some of the growth resulted from acquisitions, but much was organic, as illustrated by its Tzell Travel Group brand, whose sales volume doubled from just over $1 billion in 2010 to more than $2 billion in 2013. That growth, Loucks said, did not include Tzell’s merger with Protravel International in 2012.

Retail travel is growing across the board, regardless of whether an agency’s business model is corporate or leisure, brick-and-mortar or home-based.

For the survey, ASTA assembled a panel of agencies that was a representative sample of its members. Corporate agencies reported the strongest performance in 2013, with 65% reporting increased revenue and 57% reporting an increase in clients.

Among leisure agencies, 56% reported increased revenue, while 59% reported a growth in number of clients.

For the purposes of the study, ASTA defined independent agents as owner/agents, independent contractors or hosted agents. Among this group, 44% reported increased revenue, and 46% reported an increase in the number of clients.

Sixty-four percent of all travel agencies reported a profit in 2013. That included 72% of corporate agencies, 62% of retail leisure agencies and 57% of independent agents.

For 2014, leisure agencies were forecasting an average 11% profit, independent agents a 13% profit and corporate agencies a 10% profit, according to the ASTA study.

Agency consortia and franchises numbers, cited independently, appear to support ASTA’s data in showing continuing sales growth into this year. These are not sales that represent a recovery from the recession of 2008 and 2009 but sales coming on top of that recovery.

Westa’s Estill said that 2012 marked the consortium’s best year post-9/11. And while gross sales increased 10% in 2013 over 2012, revenue also was up by several percentage points more, due to performance bonuses, he said.

Consortia reported increases both in high-margin products and mass-market products.

Luxury is Signature Travel Group’s fastest-growing segment, with high-margin cruise and tour products up nearly 10% in 2013 over 2012. More than 70% of Signature members reported higher cruise, tour and land products over 2012, according to Executive Vice President Ignacio Maza. He said that an increasing number of Signature members are selling high-margin cruises, complex FITs, custom-tailored groups and family travel.

Maza added that a “large segment” of Signature members charge an hourly fee or planning fee for their work, an increasingly common practice industrywide, which also contributes to higher revenue.

Ensemble Travel Group reported that its preferred supplier sales (the only sales it tracks) were up about 10% in 2013 over 2012, and it is forecasting similar growth in 2014 over 2013.

Host agencies for independent and home-based agents also said last week that they were seeing double-digit sales increases.

• Avoya Travel, an American Express Travel Representative Agency, said that 2013 was the best year in the company’s history, with overall sales up 30% over 2012.

• Cruise Planners, another American Express Travel Representative that also is a host agency, said it saw a sales increase of 24% in 2013 over 2012, to $217 million. It said its first quarter this year was 32% ahead of the same quarter in 2013.

• World Travel Holdings, which has sales volume of more than $850 million, said it was seeing double-digit booking growth across its more than 40 brands, which include CruiseOne, Cruises Inc., Cruises Only and private label cruise programs for entities ranging from American Airlines to Orbitz and Priceline.

RCCL part of coalition opposing PortMiami stadium

RCCL part of coalition opposing Port-Miami Stadium

By Tom Stieghorst
PortMiamiA proposal to build a 25,000-seat soccer stadium on a neglected corner of PortMiami is drawing opposition from a group of port users, including Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

The planned stadium would be adjacent to RCCL’s headquarters campus at the port.

A coalition called the Miami Seaport Alliance was recently formed to oppose the stadium, which would house a new professional franchise partly owned by soccer superstar David Beckham.

The Miami-Dade County Commission, which governs the world’s busiest cruise port, voted in December to have the county manager begin negotiations with Beckham’s group.

There are several other non-port sites under consideration, but Beckham prefers the port site for its views of the downtown skyline.

Renderings of the proposed stadium have been created by Arquitectonica, the Miami firm that designed the nearby American Airlines Arena, home to the Miami Heat professional basketball team.

According to John Fox, president of the Miami Seaport Alliance, the area around the port entrance is already congested.

“When there’s a Heat game, or things going on at the Arsht Performing Arts Center, we now have an art museum that’s fantastic, there’s a children’s museum there, there’s a science museum coming,” Fox said. “And so, even forgetting the cruise and cargo interests, there’s horrendous, horrendous traffic problems.”

Currently, the only way to access Dodge Island where the port sits is over a bridge from downtown Miami, though a $1 billion tunnel connecting the port to a freeway is nearing completion.
RCCL-ProposedSoccerStadiumAttractionsFox, who is the former vice president of government relations at RCCL, said an open-air stadium is simply not an appropriate use of the port.

“Is there another seaport in the world that would even consider putting a sports arena with 30,000 fans right in the middle of its public property?” he wondered.

Beckham’s real estate adviser has said that games would occur at night, after cruise ships have departed. But Fox said there was no way a single team could guarantee the league’s schedule.

The stadium would take about 12 acres on the port’s southwest corner. There is currently a warehouse on the parcel used by the Marine Spill Response Corp. The port’s master plan calls for development of office towers, hotels and other such uses there.

Wary of competition, Miami’s Downtown Development Authority is supporting the Beckham stadium, which might also include ancillary development but be far less intensive.

Fox said his group includes seven or eight members, including another cruise line besides Royal Caribbean, labor unions, stevedore companies and freight forwarders. Two other cruise lines, Carnival Cruise Lines and Norwegian Cruise Line, have said they’re not involved.

The closest cruise terminal to the proposed stadium is Terminal J, which is used by Oceania, Regent Seven Seas, Crystal and Azamara.

Fox said that if the stadium were to be built and make access to PortMiami more difficult, it could mean an exodus of cruise ships and passengers to other East Coast ports, particularly Port Everglades 30 miles to the north.

“The [port] users are concerned that this will either choke off the economic engine or bring it to a halt,” Fox said, though he added that the decline would be gradual.

“This isn’t going to happen overnight,” he said. “But as businesspeople … make decisions about where to put their freight or their cruise lines, certainly this is one of the things that needs to be considered.”

Carnival to roll out revamped kids program

Carnival to roll out revamped kids program

By Tom Stieghorst
Camp Ocean logoCarnival Cruise Lines took a step to secure its base of family cruisers, announcing it will launch a new program for young children called Camp Ocean, starting in May on the Carnival Freedom.

Camp Ocean will be more themed than the current Camp Carnival, which it replaces. It will feature 200 marine-related activities for kids, ranging from assembling ocean artifact trays to creating aquariums.

The program was developed with input from a panel comprising experts in child development, toys, play and children’s media, as well as a mom who is a frequent Carnival guest.

“While our current children’s program consistently gets very high marks, we’ve challenged ourselves to exceed expectations with a truly dynamic and diverse program for our youngest guests,” said Mark Tamis, senior vice president of guest operations. He added that Club Ocean will give travel agents “an exceptionally family-friendly feature” to market.

The camp is designed for children ages 2 to 11 and is divided into three age categories, with kids 2 to 5 called Penguins, those in the 6-to-8 range dubbed Stingrays and 9- to 11-year-olds designated as Sharks.

Each group will have its own blue-and-white colored play area with custom-tailored features and activities. Penguins, for example, will be able to play in miniature igloo structures.

There will also be a new “badge challenge” program in which kids get to enjoy adventures and gain a sense of accomplishment. After completing tasks such as trying a new food or making a towel animal, kids can earn a Camp Ocean badge.

Camp Ocean is one of a steady str
Camp Ocean play areaeam of product changes designed in part to redirect the conversation about Carnival after the fire on the Carnival Triumph last year.

In other changes, it has redesigned the main dining room, added a series of live concerts with widely known acts and licensed Dr. Seuss characters specifically targeting families and children.

With its 24 ships, Carnival carries more than 700,000 children annually, a greater number than any other cruise line.

Carnival said that on two ships, the Freedom and the Vista, due in 2016, there will be a common play area for all children ages 2 to 11 called Party Reef, along with Creative Cove, a breakout room for arts and crafts.

Camp Ocean will be expanded to the Carnival Magic, Carnival Breeze and Carnival Triumph later this year, with the balance of the fleet getting the program by 2016.

Quantum’s China deployment reflects a new economic reality

Quantum’s China deployment reflects a new economic reality

By Tom Stieghorst
Shanghai, future homeport for QuantumThe decision to make Shanghai the home for Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas has immediate implications for U.S. travel agents who had been looking forward to selling the ship’s originally scheduled cruises from South Florida and New Jersey.

The Shanghai deployment is the clearest sign yet that the U.S. and Europe will have to compete for the future attention of a cruise industry they’ve grown accustomed to thinking of as their own.

“We were in a two-theaters-of-operation mode for the last 20 years,” said Adam Goldstein, president of Royal’s parent company, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. “Now, its North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific.”

In addition to China, Australia is getting strong support from North American cruise companies.

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, Royal Caribbean’s senior vice president for operations, said the plan had always been an Asia deployment for one of its upcoming ships.

“We have clearly accelerated that with the decision to send Quantum to Asia,” she said.

In its announcement, Royal Caribbean said Quantum would sail year-round from Shanghai on three- to eight-day cruises to Korea and Japan.

Details about the itineraries will be available in a month or two, said Christopher Allen, Royal Caribbean’s assistant vice president of global deployment and itinerary planning.

Goldstein said the Chinese market has evolved from being in research-and-development mode to one that is contributing to the company’s profitability.

He said that even without the ability to sail to Japan from China, due to political tensions between the two countries, 2013 was a profitable year for China-sourced business.

Royal Caribbean has been sailing the Voyager of the Seas and Mariner of the Seas from China. Although the addition of the 4,200-passenger Quantum will increase Royal Caribbean’s capacity in the market by 66%, Goldstein said he’s confident it will sell.

“This year, there’s more of a desire by [Chinese] travel agents and tour operators to go to Japan,” he said.

China has grown at a blistering pace, as has its outbound tourism, Goldstein said. “The Chinese have a very strong belief that they have emerged as an economic powerhouse,” he said, adding that the feeling they should be at the forefront of every industry comes along with that.

Goldstein said that the tourist experience in Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau and Shanghai is world-class, so the positioning of a top-of-the-line ship there is seen as only natural.

Although he has said several times that Caribbean countries need to take heed of the global competition for ship calls, Goldstein said the Quantum announcement was less a reflection on the Caribbean market than a sign of the new world economic order.
Quantum of the Seas under constructionThat order might not be good news for U.S. travel agents, who typically profited from the power of a line’s newest ship to fill fast and command premium prices.

U.S. agents, particularly those in South Florida, benefited from that effect when Royal Caribbean introduced its last new Oasis-class vessels, the Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, based in Fort Lauderdale.

The move of the Quantum to Asia means a new lineup of Royal Caribbean ships in important East Coast ports.

After the Quantum leaves New Jersey in May 2015, it will be succeeded by the Liberty of the Seas until November.

The Anthem of the Seas, which will debut in the summer of 2015 doing European cruises from Southampton, England, will then take up the New Jersey routes to Bermuda and the Caribbean.

Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales, trade support and service, said she had already heard from some agents in the Northeast U.S. who want to have clients sail on all three New Jersey-based ships in one year.

“They feel like they’re getting the trifecta,” Freed said.

But Fort Lauderdale, which had announced itself as the winter home of the Anthem, will have to make do with the Navigator of the Seas, along with its monopoly on the Oasis-class ships.

Royal Caribbean officials took pains to say that New York, South Florida and China are all important markets. As Royal Caribbean becomes more global in its deployment, the key will be to strike the proper balance, said Lutoff-Perlo.

“North America is always at the forefront of everything we think about because it is such an important market for us now. Always has been and always will be,” Lutoff-Perlo said.

One area that has lagged in Royal Caribbean’s deployment is the U.S. West Coast, particularly Los Angeles. Freed said that the line hoped to be back one day, but noted that itinerary options were somewhat limited.

Allen added: “I think that that’s a market we will continue to review and continue to look at the opportunities, and when the time is right we’ll be excited to come back to the West Coast.”

The decision to move the Quantum to China shed new light on the announcement of “Dynamic Dining,” which eliminates the main dining room on the Quantum for five smaller, alternate dining venues, a style more in tune with Asian preferences.

Lutoff-Perlo said that during a 50-day repositioning cruise from New Jersey to Shanghai in 2015, workers would modify the retail, gaming and galley areas of the ship to adjust for Chinese tastes.

She said that a press conference in Shanghai to announce the Quantum’s commitment to China was heavily attended and lasted a long time.

“The world is changing. How our ships are sourced is changing,” Lutoff-Perlo said. “The fact that these ships are popular all over the world is much different now than it has been in the past.”

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Carnival Live makes debut with sellout Styx concerts

Carnival Live makes debut with sellout Styx concerts

By Tom Stieghorst
Carnival Cruise Lines said the first in a series of big-name concerts attracted a sellout audience.  Carnival Live Video
Show lounges on Carnival Fantasy and Carnival Fascination were filled for the 1980s rock band Styx, which performed while the ships were docked in Nassau.

Carnival Cruise Lines CEO Gerry Cahill told a group of travel agents Monday that the audience was a lot of “40s and 50s” who brought their children to the shows.

“We wanted to put energy in the product, and we’re trying to give you something to sell,” Cahill told the group, which was part of the company’s ongoing Carnival Conversations initiative.

Carnival has 49 Carnival Live performance dates scheduled, with 15 artists ranging from Jennifer Hudson to Olivia Newton-John. Tickets are priced between $20 and $40, with a limited number of VIP seats going for $100 to $150.

The shows occur in port at Nassau, Cozumel and Catalina Island, Calif.

Quantum of the Seas headed to China after inaugural season

Quantum of the Seas headed to China after inaugural season

By Tom Stieghorst
Quantum-NorthStarPod-Render.jpgRoyal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. will take the unprecedented step of putting its newest ship in China, following a 2015 winter season of cruising from Cape Liberty in Bayonne, N.J.

Starting in May 2015, Quantum of the Seas will be repositioned to Shanghai, where it will offer a series of three- to eight-day cruises to Korea and Japan.

“Every trend we are seeing in China tells us we can achieve real long-term competitive advantage and appealing returns on our investments in this fast-growing market by accelerating our presence there,” said RCCL President Adam Goldstein. “We will have to be nimble, but the ability to move fast is one of our strengths.”

Quantum will join Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas and Mariner of the Seas, increasing capacity in the region by 66%.

To fill the void left by Quantum’s departure from New Jersey, Royal Caribbean will move Liberty of the Seas to Cape Liberty for the 2015 summer schedule of sailings to Bermuda, the Caribbean and Canada/New England.

Quantum’s sister ship, Anthem of the Seas, will reposition to New Jersey after an inaugural summer season sailing from Southampton, England. It will begin cruises from Cape Liberty in November 2015.

Goldstein said that consumers in China have grown to expect the best the world has to offer, and Quantum of the Seas meets that standard.

“We are ready to accelerate the growth of this vital market with a ship that will capture the imagination of travelers looking for a one-of-a-kind vacation experience,” he said. 

Tui AG to reduce stake in Hapag-Lloyd

Tui AG to reduce stake in Hapag-Lloyd

Tui AG to reduce stake in Hapag-Lloyd
German travel giant Tui AG's stake in container shipping company Hapag-Lloyd will drop to 13.9% following a tie-up with Chilean firm Compania SudAmericana de Vapores.
Tui, which also controls Europe's largest tour operator Tui Travel, currently owns 22% of Hapag-Lloyd.
The shareholding will drop first to 15% as part of the merger and then to 13.9% because Tui will not participate in a planned capital increase.
The deal between Vapores and Hapag-Lloyd will create the world's fourth-largest container-shipping company.
Tui, which has long planned to exit container shipping, will also get priority placement rights for its remaining stake as part of Hapag-Lloyd's planned stock market flotation in 2015, it said in an internal letter seen by Reuters.