European cruising is on the upswing. According to the European Cruise Council (ECC), 2.8 million Europeans sailed on ocean cruises in 2004 – an increase of 5 percent over 2003. Fred Hitchins, director of IRN Research, the company that provides the ECC with its statistics, pointed out that while 2005 will see some increase, 2006 and 2007 will grow at a higher clip. But in addition to the prospect of future growth, yet another trend exists among European cruisers, travel agents in the top four European source markets told Cruise Industry News: the demand for newer ships.

U.K. Market Expansion

“Passengers here are no doubt paying more attention to newer vessels,” noted Jacqueline Dobson, cruise director of Barrhead Travel Service in the U.K., referring to the launch of P&O Cruises’ Arcadia earlier this year as a major catalyst for that awareness. “That is not to say that there still isn’t a strong market for older ships,” she added. “Passengers just want more to choose from. And I think looking ahead, even more U.K. cruisers will begin to gravitate toward newbuilds.”

The U.K. was the leading European source market in 2004, with more than 1 million passengers, according to the ECC. Dobson seemed optimistic about future expansion, pointing out that Royal Caribbean International’s venture into the U.K. market this year, “is significantly helping make things more interesting for U.K. passengers. It would be nice to see more North American lines deploy ships here.” Dobson also said that U.K. cruisers want a cruise experience “that makes them feel like they aren’t in the U.K.” – citing Thomson’s venture to Sharm el Sheik next winter as an example of that.

With regard to the profitability of selling cruises, Dobson said that it has become more lucrative with the advent of more group cruises, though she said that discounting is still a thorn in the proverbial side of the agent and wished that more cruise lines would try to impede this practice.

Changing German Market

Cruising in Germany was once viewed as a luxury, as many passengers were used to only the basics, explained Karen Proft Garcia, owner of  F.T. Europe Vision Travel in Berlin, who has been selling cruises for more than 20 years. “The German market, much like the entire European market is changing,” she said. “Standards are getting higher. New ships and modern amenities are in the forefront for all to see, and passengers want them.” Garcia said. One of the things that German passengers look for, according to Garcia, is a more international experience onboard.

Garcia pointed out that she sees the Caribbean as a growing destination among German passengers, “depending on the cost of airlift and better connecting flights.” She also mentioned that unlike 10 years ago, cruising in Germany no longer exclusively caters to a 50- to 60-year-old demographic. “More passengers are now are in the 30- to 45-year-old category,” she stated. Germany, at 551,000 passengers, was the second largest European source market in 2004, according to the ECC.

Italians Taking Notice

“What fascinates Italians most about cruising is the comfort,” noted Antonio Tozzi, president of Fiavet, a travel agency in Rome. And during the course of a few years, Tozzi said, ships catering to Italian passengers have taken quantum leaps in their appearance. “The entire market of Italian vessels is becoming more updated and luxurious,” he explained, adding that it is something Italians are very aware of and interested in.

“The Italian market has seen double digit increases in profits,” Tozzi pointed out, “and is definitely growing.” In 2004, the Italian market grew to 400,000 passengers, according to the ECC.

Tozzi also added that while cruising used to be a typical vacation for seniors, it’s now becoming more popular for families, young professionals and teen-agers. Onboard activities and interaction between passengers are also more common now than ever, he mentioned. Among destinations of choice, Tozzi cited Northern Europe as “up-and-coming,” and the Caribbean as a favorite during the winter.

Spanish Pax Demand More

While price has always been a major concern for Spaniards taking a cruise, Spanish passengers are becoming more demanding, explained Tony Wanguemert, president of Latitud4, a travel agency in Barcelona – “and in turn have no problem paying more for a newer ship,” he said, noting that in addition to modernity, Spanish passengers want to be accepted. “(Acceptance) includes obliging aspects of Spanish culture such as late lunches and dinners,” Wanguemert said.

Previously it was just Spanish lines like Pullmantur that were catering exclusively to Spaniards. “This is now happening more with Costa ships,” Wanguemert pointed out, “and also on Royal Caribbean’s Med cruises. They are creating more of an international atmosphere onboard, and I think this will be a key to Spaniards cruising more.”

While 300,000 Spaniards cruised in 2004, according to the ECC – a 2 percent dip over 2003 – Wanguemert predicted that in 2005 capacity will increase 7 to 8 percent

Excerpt from the Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine: Summer 2005