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(From left): Lars Clasen, president of Seetours Cruises; Michael Thamm, senior vice president of operations for Seetours; Lord Sterling, chairman of P&O Princess Cruises; Doris Schroder-Kopff, godmother for the AIDAvita and wife of the German federal chancellor; Captain Volker Zausch; Gerhard Schroder, German federal chancellor; and Horst Rahe, chairman of Seetours and a member of the board of P&O PrincessWe are seeking to broaden the German cruise market with V W modern cruise products. Our target is the land-based vacation market,” said Lars Clasen, president of Seetours International, the parent company to AIDA Cruises and A’Rosa Cruises. “Two thirds of our passengers are first-time cruisers; they want the freedom of land-based resorts,” Clasen continued. “We cannot imagine telling our passengers when to eat or where to sit.” AIDA first introduced the concept of open seating in multiple restaurants mostly offering buffet-style service aboard the AIDA, now the AIDAcara, in 1996, referred to as a club-ship in Germany.

“AIDA features fitness and awareness; A Rosa features awareness and fitness," Clasen explained. Neither are traditional products. Aboard the AIDA ships, 90 percent of the restaurant capacity is based on buffet-style service, while aboard A’Rosa, 50 percent is buffet-style. “We offer more service aboard the A’Rosa Blu,” Clasen said. “The ship offers open seating with seven different restaurants,” he added. At press time (mid-May) the A’Rosa Blu was being converted from the former Crown Princess at Lloyd Werft Bremerhaven.

Said Clasen: “We are segmenting the German-speaking markets in order to appeal to the most people.”
He compared the two cruise brands to BMW and Mercedes (Benz), one being a little sportier, the other a little more luxurious.

Seetours is also extending the modem cruise concept to its recently launched riverboats, which sail under the A’Rosa brand: the A’Rosa Bella and the A’Rosa Donna. “We want to bring down the average passenger age and open up new markets,” said Clasen. “We are the first company to offer deep sea cruise standards on riverboats. Our cabins are much larger - 16 to 17 square meters — compared to 12 square meters aboard the traditional river ships. We have a large free-flow restau-rant (open seating), a large lounge with a stage for shows, a bar, and a fitness center. The sauna is located atop with panoramic views,” Clasen added.

At the start of 2002, Seetours had 1,700 berths in the AIDA brand, by year’s end the company will have 4,500 berths, with the introduction of the second AIDA ship, the AIDAvita; and the launch of its new brand, A’Rosa, with its first ship, the A’Rosa Blu, and the two riverboats. Moderating the growth somewhat is the withdrawal of the Arkona.

“It is a big step,” conceded Clasen, but the bookings are proving us right. We will have 4,100 berths on the sea and 400 berths on the rivers.”

Also joining the fleet in 2003 will be the AIDAaura.

“Keep in mind that 400,000 Germans cruised in 2001,” Clasen explained. “That is less than 0.5 percent of the population, compared to nearly three percent of the American population that cruised in the same year, and 1.2 percent in Great Britain.”

One reason for this, according to Clasen, has been the lack of modern products - a void that Seetours is now working aggressively to fill.

The 1,266-passenger AIDAvita was delivered on time, and Clasen said the company was very pleased with the new ship. The construction time at MTW was 18 months after the keel was laid.

The AIDAcara is sailing two different seven-day programs out of Palma de Mallorca this summer, while the AIDAvita sails two different seven-day programs from Heraklion on Crete. “Our marketing philosophy is that we are a tour company,” Clasen said. “Our hotels just happen to be afloat.”

The A’Rosa Blu will sail two different seven-day Baltic programs from Rostock before moving on to Palma de Mallorca for five weeks in the fall, and then on to the Canary Islands, before spending the winter season sailing from Montego Bay, Jamaica.

During the winter 02/03, the AIDAcara moves to the Canary Islands and the AIDAvita sails from the Dominican Republic.

The German market was impacted by 9/11, according to Clasen, and also by a recent terrorism incident in Tunisia where German tourists were killed. One result is that German travelers are booking closer in than before. “I do not think there will be much market growth in 2002,” said Clasen. “But AIDA has been exceeding our expectations. A’Rosa is more of a challenge but the year is still young; it is still possible that we can meet our goals.”

Long term, however, Clasen is convinced of the German potential. “We have a very strong position in the German market,” he said. “We are the market leader; we are focused on Germany.”

Seetours is the German part of P&O Princess Cruises. Michael Thamm is senior vice president of operations and new-buildings, and Richard Vogel is senior vice president of marketing. The ships’ crews are predominantly Filipino, according to Clasen, while the hotel staff and ships’ officers also include Germans, Swiss, Austrians and other Europeans.

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