“We look at market demand before looking at the cost side when planning itineraries,” said Neil Palomba, corporate operating officer at MSC Cruises.
Guest satisfaction is the most important planning criteria, also according to Crane Gladding, senior vice president of revenue management and passenger services for Norwegian Cruise Line. “First of all, we must be able to sell and deliver guest satisfaction,” he said. “Profitability is ultimately important, but is a result of the other factors being in place.”
“We have movable assets and will continue to look at travel trends and demands,” said Chris Allen, director of global deployment and planning for Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises, who added that a great many factors are involved, including fuel costs and new regulations.
Carnival Cruise Lines is planning to test some itinerary adjustments next year, driven by the need to address the 2015 ECA according to Terry Thornton, senior vice president of revenue management and deployment.
He said efforts could range from adjusting the number of ports, the time spent in port, to slowing down the ships, or even dropping ports. Another solution Carnival may look at is to send more ships outside of the U.S., Thornton suggested – to Europe or Australia.
Whether related to the ECA or not, one change next year is the Carnival Glory, which will not be returning to Boston for her short-cruise program to Canada and New England.
There is increased sensitivity to margins and especially fuel costs, said Crystal Morgan, director of market planning, deployment and itineraries at Princess Cruises. Consequently, some changes have been made to save fuel, but without jeopardizing the guest experience.
Allen said he sees growth opportunities in Asia and Australia. Meanwhile, the Caribbean will always be “exceptionally important,” he added. Both Royal Caribbean and Princess will have record capacity in the Caribbean this year.
Europe remains a core summer market for a majority of the ships, but winter programs have not taken off. Royal Caribbean International has had year-round deployment in Europe, but Allen said: “We are prioritizing other markets for now. There are too many other attractive options, but we hope to develop a European winter program again sometime in the future.”
Alaska has bounced back after the infamous head tax pushed some capacity out. The newest ship in the market will be the Celebrity Solstice, boosting the brand’s capacity in Alaska.
With bigger ships and a longer season, Princess will see a 7 percent capacity increase in Alaska this summer.
“The trend in 2013 is toward shorter cruises,” added Carol Marlow, managing director at P&O Cruises in the UK. “We are shaving off a day here and there,” she said. “We have increased the range of slightly shorter cruises to the Mediterranean, and we see this trend continuing. We have also increased the number of seven-night sailings and also have some two- and three-day cruises for people who are new to cruising.”
The luxury brands are also offering more short cruises – which not only makes them more accessible to the so-called working rich, but also serves to lower the price, making the products affordable to more people. These cruises, however, can typically be combined into longer sailings, so they remain attractive to the market’s more traditional, older clientele as well.
Princess is going to Japan this spring and returning with a five-fold capacity increase in 2014, according to Deanna Austin, senior vice president of yield management, planning and customer service. In addition, Princess will be offering the brand’s first regular series of short cruises, with the Ruby sailing four- and five-day cruises from Ft. Lauderdale.
More California coastal cruises are also offered in lieu of the Mexican Riviera, although Carnival maintains its short-cruise program and Norwegian will be back with seven-day cruises next winter.
New ships do not make destinations less important, according to Allen, who said: “We need to match or exceed expectations both aboard and ashore. And the destinations need to understand that.”
>> Also in this section: Cruise Industry News talks to every cruise line and profiles where their ships are going and why - with respect to ports, costs, fuel savings and more.