The Spanish cruise market is expected to surpass the 600,000 passenger mark in 2008 - an increase of 83 percent over 2007, when the total was 348,503, according to preliminary estimates by Cruise Industry News (C!N).

Pullmantur’s capacity is slated to climb to more than 320,000 passengers in 2008 - compared to 200,340 in 2007 - as the line will be adding the larger, 1,400-passenger Pacific Star (ex-Costa Tropicale) from P&O Australia, and Royal Caribbean International 1,600-passenger Empress of the Seas in March 2008.

In addition, Carnival Corporation and Orizonia Corporacion, Spain's largest travel company, whose Iberojet division operates its own cruise fleet, recently signed of a letter of intent to form a joint venture, which is expected to expand Iberojet's fleet over the next several years through the acquisition of existing tonnage from Carnival Corporation.

Iberojet currently has the youngest fleet in the Spanish market - the 800-passenger Grand Voyager, built in 2000, and the 1,200-passenger Grand Mistral, constructed in 1999 - and carries approximately 55,000 passengers annually. The company is expected to add two of Carnival's older ships in 2008. (CIN anticipates that these ships will be the 1985-built, 1,452-passenger Holiday, and the 1987-built, 1,486-passenger Celebration.) With the two Carnival ships, Iberojet's capacity is expected to increase significantly in 2008, to more than 200,000.

The Carnival/Iberojet transaction is slated to close in the second quarter of 2007, pending approval of both companies' boards of directors, all necessary regulatory approvals, customary due diligence and execution of definitive agreements, according to a statement from Iberojet.

Pullmantur: Market Leader

Pullmantur is currently sailing with four ships in the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and Northern Europe - the Holiday Dream, Oceanic, Sky Wonder, and Zenith - although the Blue Dream and Blue Moon sailed for a portion of 2007, before being transferred to Celebrity Cruises.

With the addition of the Pacific Star and Empress of the Seas in 2008, the line will again have six ships, but significantly more berths.

While 2008 deployment was unavailable at press time, it was confirmed that the Holiday Dream will be sailing round-trip from Aruba in 2008.

Carnival + lberojet

Regarding Carnival and Iberojet's joint venture, according to a press release, Iberojet is expected to utilize its current cruise management team, with General Manager Alfredo Serrano reporting to the joint venture' s board of directors.

Pier Luigi Foschi, chairman and CEO of Costa Crociere, will serve as chairman of lhe joint venture.

Also, under the proposed transaction, the Iberojet cruise business being contributed to the joint venture company is valued at €320 million, with €180 million in debt, representing a net capital value of€140 million. Carnival will own 75 percent of the joint venture with Iberojet 25 percent.

Serrano told Cruise Industry News that the goal of the company is "to be the leader in the Spanish market within a few years." 

"Our knowledge and distribution power combined with the operational expertise of Carnival, in addition to benefiting from Carnival's economies of scale, is a perfect match," Serrano added.

Currently, Iberojet's ships all sail in the Mediterranean, but Serrano said that he is looking into other areas, such as Northern Europe and the Caribbean.

But unlike Pullmantur, which markets to various nationalities, Serrano pointed out that Iberojet wants to remain more "focused" in its strategy - strictly marketing to mainly Spanish-speaking passengers, in addition to some Portuguese.

''The Spanish cruise market is ready for expansion," Serrano said, noting that in 2006, out of 42 million Spanish, only 350,000 have cruised - a penetration of less than 1 percent.

A Piece of the Pie

Tour operator Travelplan sails with the 1972-built, 800-passenger New Flamenco (ex-Flamenco) , and is expecting to add another ship in 2008, "as big as 1,400 passengers, that we may even put in the Caribbean during the winter," Cruise Director Javier Espeso pointed out.

The New Flamenco sails in the Western Mediterranean doing week-long cruises from Barcelona, and is expected to continue to do the same in 2008.

"We want a piece of the pie (the growing Spanish market) as well," Espeso said. "By next summer I could see us sailing with three or more ships."

Espeso said there are several differences in cruising with a Spanish operator, versus taking a cruise with Costa or MSC Cruise.

"The main things are that our cruises are more affordable, and there is only one language spoken onboard (Spanish), which makes the experience a lot more personal," he said.

According to Espeso, the Spanish cruise market has been increasing every year, and "the growth can be absorbed without a problem."

"There are many desirable destinations, and no shortage of Spanish people that want to cruise," he said.