Europe on the Rebound

The port of Venice

Much attention has been drawn to the temporary departure of North American operators from Eastern Mediterranean cruising waters in summer 2002, but the primary drivers of regional cruise traffic here are not North American - they’re European.

While considerably smaller in scale than their Miami-based counterparts, European cruise lines position 80 percent of their global capacity in Europe - in contrast to the North Americans, who’ve positioned just five percent of their capacity in the region during 2002.

Taking into account all ships sailing in the Mediterranean, Northern/Western Europe, and the Canary Islands, Cruise Industry News (CIN) estimates that capacity in 2002 will drop 7.8 percent. European companies - who control 82.3 percent of all berths sailing here - are actually increasing their capacity by 1.4 percent, but this will be counterbalanced by the Northern Americans’ 35.1 percent cutback.

And notwithstanding any new political/security issues which may arise, the North American lines have already announced that they will once again return - in force - for the 2003 summer season, so this year’s relative lull is expected to be short-lived.

North American Operators

Mediterranean - Following Sept. 11, the Eastern Mediterranean ports of Turkey and Egypt, and to a lesser extent Greece, were dropped by North American operators in favor of calmer seas.

Among North American operators, capacity is dropping 36 percent this year, to 255,820 passengers aboard 30 ships. Nearly 40 percent of this capacity loss stems from the fall 2001 bankruptcy of Renaissance Cruises, formerly the market leader in the region among North American operators. The other 60 percent of the capacity decrease arises from post-Sept. 11 decisions to shift capacity. Among those pulling vessels from the region are Royal Caribbean International (RCI), Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line (HAL), and Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL).

But since making those decisions to shift capacity away, cruise line executives have repeatedly commented on the strength of those ships that remained in Europe in 2002. Consequently, North American lines have already announced plans to return next year.

Princess will increase its European presence overall by 150 percent in 2003, with three ships in the Mediterranean: the 2,600-passenger sister ships Grand and Golden Princess, sailing between Barcelona and Venice (the first time both have sailed the itinerary simultaneously); plus cruises aboard the 1,200-passenger Royal Princess, which will venture back into the Eastern Mediterranean, including Turkey and even Egypt.

HAL will return to Europe with three ships in 2003 (two in the Med): the 1,848- passenger Oosterdam and the older 1,214- passenger Noordam, both in the Western Mediterranean.

Northern/Western Europe - As in the Mediterranean, North American cruise lines pulled back from Northern and Western Europe in 2002 - in this case not because of any particular security fears, but because they needed to bring these ships closer to home.

Among North Americans, capacity in Northern/Western Europe dropped 33 percent, following the bankruptcy of Renaissance Cruises (which sailed four ships here in 2001), combined with pullbacks by other lines including Celebrity Cruises, HAL, NCL, and RCI.

Meanwhile, a notable newcomer among North Americans is Carnival Cruise Lines. For the first time ever. Car-nival offers a European product aboard the 2,100-passenger Carnival Legend immediately following its delivery from Kvaerner Masa-Yards.

Also sailing for the first time in the region is the 176-passenger condominium- ship, The World of ResidenSea.

Taking over the number-one spot in Northern/Western Europe among North American operators is Princess Cruises, sailing the 1,200-passenger Royal Princess and 1,590-passenger Regal Princess.

And as in the Mediterranean, the major North American operators who pulled back in 2002 have indicated plans to return next year.

European Operators

Mediterranean - European cruise lines operating in the Mediterranean are not constrained by the same issues confronting North Americans. As a result, European capacity is decreasing only slightly in 2002, by four percent, to 1 million passengers.

Such decreases are primarily due to pullbacks by operators in the short-cruise Eastern Mediterranean market, particularly those who specialized in short-haul cruises to the Holy Land. Between them, Louis Cruise Lines, Royal Olympic Cruises, Golden Sun Cruises, and Paradise Cruises have collectively dropped their capacity by 200,000 passengers this summer.

Such substantia] retreats in the short- cruise sector have been counterbalanced by capacity growth within the traditional seven-day cruise market, in particular by Costa Crociere, Festival Cruises, and newcomer Island Cruises.

While Costa is no longer sailing the now-retired Costa Riviera, it has brought in the larger 1,494-passenger Costa Europa (ex-Westerdam).

Meanwhile, Festival Cruises has grown to be the second largest operator in the European seven-day sector (the largest if one also includes Festival sister brand Spanish Cruise Line). In 2002, Festival will post sizeable gains thanks to the addition of a fifth ship, the 1,500-passenger European Stars, to sail 10 months in the Mediterranean, joining the 1,500-passenger European Vision, 1,200-passenger Mistral, and 750-passenger Azur, each sailing in the region for a half-year or more.

New brand Island Cruises - a joint venture between RCI and U.K. tour operator First Choice - began service this summer with the 1,512-passenger Island Escape (ex-Viking Serenade) marketing to a younger, more active U.K. clientele. After a bumpy start and the resignation of its managing director, Island claims to be back on track.

Also new on the scene is the just- launched 1,270-passenger AIDAvita for German club-ship operator AIDA Cruises, doubling that company’s Med capacity this summer.

Finally, Thomson Holidays has just announced that in May 2003 it will replace its 906-passenger Topaz with the 1,212- passenger Thomson Spirit (ex-Patriot, ex- Nieuw Amsterdam), to be chartered from that vessel’s new owner, Louis Cruise Lines.

NorthernAVestern Europe - European capacity in Northern and Western Europe will increase 18 percent this summer, to 302,017 passengers.

Costa sails the 1,350-passenger Costa Romantica, the 1,494-passenger Costa Europa, and the 770-passenger Costa Marina.

Norwegian Coastal Voyages (NCV) - which is not a traditional cruise operator and devotes a considerable number of its berths to ferry traffic up and down the Norwegian coastline - adds a total of four new and second-hand ships to its fleet this year.

NCV’s newly launched 670-passenger Finnmarken and Trollfjord increase the company’s capacity by 22 percent.

Beyond its newbuilding program, NCV has chartered two smaller expedition ships, the 164-passenger Nordstjemen and 92-passenger Brand Polaris, which together with the 184-passenger Lofoten comprise the fleet of a new brand, NCV Expedition Cruises. In the Northern/Western Europe sector, NCV Expedition Cruises features adventure-oriented sailings to the Lofoten Islands, Spitsbergen, and Greenland.

Other increases are being posted by P&O Princess Cruises’ new German premium brand, A’Rosa. The A’Rosa Blu (exCrown Princess) features itineraries homeported in Hamburg and Warnemunde, Germany, sailing to Den-mark, Finland, Russia and Iceland.

And German tour operator Transocean doubles its capacity in the region after purchasing a second ship, the 500- passenger Astoria (ex-Arkona), joining the 590-passenger Astor.

Canaries - European lines are increasingly choosing the Canaries as their winter sailing ground, particularly as other potential alternatives such as the far Eastern Mediterranean, Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean continue to be impacted by political unrest.

Canaries capacity has grown 25 percent this year, to 160,975 passengers, as a result of moves by European operators. Most notably, earlier this year, Costa Crociere temporarily withdrew the 1,950- passenger Costa Victoria from its traditional Caribbean route marketed to North American passengers, instead calling in the Canaries with sales targeted to Europeans. Consequently, Costa suddenly became the market leader in the region, surpassing U.K. operators Sun Cruises and P&O Cruises, which had dominated the market during previous years. Yet another notable presence to the Canaries market in 2002 is Festival Cruises, sailing a full season here with the 900-passenger Flamenco. Festival has also announced it will position the 1,500-passenger European Stars on a Canaries run for winter 2002-2003.

Europe: The Future

Considering that European operators have historically based 80 percent of their worldwide capacity in their own backyard
- and that European berths heavily outweigh North American berths in the region
- a strong predictor of the future European market can be found in the growth plans of the European-based cruise lines themselves.

On a global basis, CIN estimates that European cruise lines are expanding capacity by 6.4 percent in 2002, to just over 2.2 million passengers.

Looking forward to the more pronounced growth spurt in 2003 - 18.9 percent - AIDA will launch the 1,270-pas-senger AIDAaura; P&O Cruises takes over the 1,950-passenger Sea Princess, to be renamed Adonia, and launches its new contemporary brand Ocean Village with the 1.620-passenger ex-Arcadia; Mediterranean Shipping Cruises (MSC) takes delivery of its first 1,586-passenger newbuild; and Costa Crociere brings both the 2,100-passenger Costa Mediterranea and 2,720-passenger Costa Fortuna into its fleet. Also next year, Swan Hellenic Cruises will take over the 690-passenger R8, to be renamed Minerva 2, replacing the existing 300-passenger Minerva.

Looking to 2004-2005, growth will arise from additional new-building deliveries for Costa, MSC, and Cunard Line.

 

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