Admiral Cruise Line will expand its fleet to five, according to Robert Mahmarian, vice president. The first addition will be an acquisition and is expected imminently, and the second is a newbuilding, scheduled for delivery in about a year-and-one-half, he said.
"We are in a growth stage, and that was one of the major reasons for the acquisition," Mahmarian commented, referring to the merger of Eastern, Western and Sundance Cruises into the newly formed Admiral Cruise Line.
According to Mahmarian, the merger has been successful, and the transition was carried out with little confusion on the part of travel agents and consumers.
An extensive advertising campaign helped preserve the identity of the three ships - Azure Seas, Emerald Seas, and Stardancer, Mahmarian said. "We ran four-color spreads in the trade press and USA Today, and devoted a separate segment to each ship." Photos, descriptions and itineraries were provided.
"This spells out in pictures and words exactly what people can expect to find on a cruise, and this is where the industry needs to be placing more emphasis if we want to expand the market. Advertising discounts is not effective if people do not know what a cruise is all about."
Mahmarian also said that it may be a mistake to just advertise the company name.
"We have conducted studies that show consumers identify with the ship, rather than the company name. For example, on the East Coast, we found that there was only moderate recognition for the name Eastern Cruise Line, but 95 percent recognition when the Emerald Seas was mentioned. We got the same results with Western Cruise Line and Sundance Cruises."
Value and variety in cruising are Admiral's key marketing messages, Mahmarian said.
The Emerald Seas and Azure Seas offer three- and four-day cruises from Miami and Los Angeles, respectively. Both generate a great deal of repeat business, from their respective coasts, especially on the weekends, Mahmanan said.
The Stardancer has a national pull, offering seven-day cruises from Los Angeles to Mexico in the winter, and to Alaska in the summer. The per diems are not as high in Mexico and the line has to rely on discounts, Mahmarian said. "Mexico is still suffering from economic problems and a poor image. It also does not have the variety of appeal that the rest of the Caribbean has."
Alaska, however, is still "very good," and the line does not discount in that market, Mahmarian said. According to Mahmarian, the merger is improving the profit picture for all three lines.
"A one-ship operator cannot effectively compete because advertising and operating costs are becoming too expensive. Before, we would have had to take out three different ads, but now all we need is one merged ad, and that cost is spread over three ships. And as a larger cruise line, we become more important to the travel agents," Mahmarian said.
Mahmarian said Admiral will continue to grow for the next several years, with a commitment to maintaining a diverse inventory of products.