While the present cruise market may best be characterized by its intense competition, this year the industry is entering a new stage of growth and development, which observers say may alter its course for the future.

This year, construction will begin on the largest and perhaps most innovative passenger/cruise ships ever. A multi-million dollar generic advertising campaign is planned, and a computerized booking system has come on line to help fill the expanding fleet of ships. Another major U.S. corporation has invested in the industry, and finally it seems as if the United States will bring the U.S. flag back to glory on the high seas.

Several new ships were introduced over the last 12-month period and several are are under construction, scheduled for delivery in 1986/87. These newbuildings represent a tremendous growth actor for the industry, as well as increased product development and market segmentation.

By 1990, it is estimated that the new ships will have brought at least 20,000 new berths to the estimated 50,000 now serving the U. S. market. To help fill the ships, CLIA is planning a multi-million dollar generic advertising campaign, and Cruisematch, a computerized booking system, recently came on line. Port expansion programs are underway in the U.S., in the Caribbean, and in other popular cruise regions.

The trend is towards very large ships, and small specialized ships. The large ships of RCCL and NCL will offer increased profitability through economies of scale and will offer passengers vastly more entertainment and activities options. The NCL ship in particular, is expected to be very different from existing cruise ships, and bring cruising much closer to the floating resort concept. Other new designs have been developed at Finnish and Far Eastern shipyards.

The smaller, specialized ships, are designed for defined market niches, offering ultra luxury to a very affluent clientele in the case of Sea Goddess, and a luxurious sailing experience in the case of the new Windstar Sail Cruises.

In both cases, the very large and small ships are diverging designs, and introduce different vacation concepts from the conventional cruise ships in the 15,000 to 30,000 ton range, which have essentially made up the cruise industry since its modern beginning about 1970, and are basically a continuation of the passenger ships of earlier days.

Other significant developments so far in 1985, include Busch Gardens' take-over of Exploration Cruise Lines. As Busch Gardens is a division of Anheuser Busch, it becomes the third major U.S. corporation, following Greyhound and Marriott, to invest in the cruise industry.

Finally, the United States' comeback seems certain, bringing a major U.S.-flag ship into mainland waters.

In addition, 1985 has been charac­terized by more intensive, if not more innovative, cruise line marketing, inclu­ding all sorts of incentives - from free cars to free cruises; free air maintained as an industry standard; and the latest theme cruise fad - ranging from cruises for chocolate lovers to Halley's Comet watchers...

Observers note that, as in any industry, there are traditional players and innovators. In 1985, it appears that the innovators have taken the lead role in the cruise industry.