Preparing for its inaugural Caribbean season, EasyCruises CEO Stelios Haji-Ioannou said that the first sailing is half-filled with American passengers who have taken advantage of a special offer on Travelzoo at $2 per night instead of the starting rate of $16 per night.
Speaking at a press conference in New York, Haji-Ioannou said that his objective in the Caribbean is to fi]l half of the 170-passenger easyCruiseOne with Americans and the other half with British passengers. In Europe, however, the ship is sailing with approximately half of its capacity filled with Brits and the other half made up of some 90 different nationalities.
Haji-Ioannou also used the New York opportunity to screen segments of Sky TV's humorous and quirky reality series about his cruise venture, which incidentally and notably also showed a very young crew on the easyCrniseOne, but an ancient-looking captain and a wild-looking chef, in addition to lots of footage of Haji-Ioannou himself.
Sailing in the Southern Caribbean, using Bridgetown as its main port, while passengers can also embark and disembark on other islands, Haji-Ioannou said: "We could have chosen Miami, but I think the competition there would have been more direct and perhaps ruthless." But eventually, he may consider a base in Miami, he said.
Starting in May, the ship sailed half-full for the first two to three months, before jumping to 83 percent to 85 percent occupancy in August. At 90 percent load factor, Haji-Ioannou said his goal is to have each passenger spend $60 to $70 per day, including the ticket fare. So far, passengers tend to spend from $20 to $30 onboard, which, when combined with a lower occupancy rate, means the ship is losing money.
"The ship is too small to make money," HajiIoannou admitted. It is also difficult to maintain full occupancy, he said, when people can get on or off wherever they like.
In addition to the ticket price, passengers pay for all services onboard, including approximately $20 per housekeeping visit, if they request fresh bed linens and new towels, as well as food and beverages.
Haji-loannou was evasive on the subject of shore excursions, but seemed to admit that the company had offered them, but that there were few buyers among the passengers. He said the passengers are independent and resourceful enough to find their own way to the beach. Instead, what the ship will offer is advice on restaurants, bars and entertainment.
He described the onboard atmosphere as a "24- hour culture" where German passengers may get up with the sun to work on their tans and Mexican passengers get up at midnight and order hamburgers before heading into town.
Haji-Ioannou sounded more conciliatory toward the rest of the industry than he has in the past and suggested that the present ship was more of a project to test his concept and, that if it works this winter, the optimal thing to do is to order new ships. As for the easyCruiseOne, he said it was the cheapest hull he could find; that it was gutted; and rebuilt into its new version - at a cost of some $20 million. And, because the ship was reconfigured from some 110 passenger to 170, it was cheaper to weld the old cabin portholes shut than build new ones to fit the new cabins. Hence, none of the passenger cabins have windows (or portholes).
The market easyCruise is going after is young people who are not likely to be cruise passengers and Haji-Ioannou said he has no intention of trying to convert Qfil passengers, for instance, to EasyCruise. "The name of the game is not to convert cruise passengers," he added.
So far, he said that 98 percent of his passengers have said they'd like to cruise with easyCruise again. "My strategy is to under-promise and then over deliver," Haji-Ioannou noted.
If he goes ahead with newbuildings, they will be three to four times larger than his present ship, and starting from scratch, any new ship will have windows, he said, adding that, if the winter is successful, orders for new ships could be placed as soon as next spring with delivery of the first new ship in two years. He also conceded that new ships may even have balcony cabins and suites.
Meanwhile, easyCruise is focused on the winter season, including its distribution system. "In the Caribbean, the flight to get there will cost more than the cabin," Haji-Ioannou said, adding that agents will make more on the air commission than the cruise. But just mentioning travel agents seems to be a bit of an admission since European cruises are sold directly from the company's website. EasyCruise has previously pointed out that it is indeed bypassing the traditional distribution system.
While there are tourists in Barbados and the neighboring islands that may well decide to take a few days for a cruise, the question is: How many Americans will fly to Bridgetown?
Haji-Ioannou also used the opportunity to provide an overview over his many easy-businesses and pointed out that every single company he has started still exists. So while easyCruise may go through some growing pains and adjustments, Haji-Ioannou may not give up before he gets the formula right. He is also driven by what he called the cruise industry's extraordinary profitability and noted that Carnival Corporation's market capitalization was $43 billion - more than that of the world's largest airlines combined.