It was a rough year in the travel industry in 2009 — airlines, hotels, resorts, rental car firms and other segments of the industry suffered significant financial losses, some of the double-digit variety, when business slacked off.
There was one bright spot in spite of the challenging environment. Despite the tough year, cruise passenger growth continued. While growth was down from previous years, cruise lines carried 13.4 million passengers last year, 3 percent more than in 2008.
One of the reasons, according to Cruise Line International Association, the industry’s marketing arm, was the number of new ships hitting the water. Fourteen new vessels representing a total investment of some $4.7 billion were introduced in 2009, and that trend will carry over into this year — when the CLIA forecasts that 14.3 million passengers will cruise. Figures cited by the CLIA cover worldwide cruising show U.S. and Canadian passengers account for three-fourths of the total.
Eleven new vessels will debut this year, adding more than 27,000 new berths. Cruise line officials are confident that they will be filled. New ships range in size from American Cruise Lines’ 110-passenger Independence to Royal Caribbean International’s second Oasis-class ship, the 5,400-passenger Allure of the Seas.
The ships will be launched in locales as far away as Dubai, where Costa Cruises’ Costa Deliziosa will be the first cruise ship to be named in the United Arab Emirates, and as close to home as New York, where the Norwegian Epic will be christened in July.
Norwegian Cruise Line’s Epic — the line’s largest ship to date — is easily the most innovative and revolutionary ship of the crop of new builds, notes Travel Weekly.
Last year, the behemoth that is the 220,000-ton Oasis of the Seas fundamentally changed the cruise industry, with its split-hull design that allowed for the interior, open-air “neighborhoods” named Central Park and Broadwalk. It also introduced loft cabins and an amphitheater with Olympic diving shows.
This year the spotlight is on the 153,000-ton, 4,200-passenger Epic.
Set to debut in June, the Epic will be as revolutionary for what it will not have — cruise ship staples like a main dining room and a main theater — as for what it will, reports Travel Weekly. The ship will have specially designed entertainment venues such as a big-top-style tent for Cirque Dreams dinner shows, the Ice Bar, where the temperature will be set to 17 degrees and the bar, walls, tables and stools will all be made of solid ice, and accommodations like “New Wave” staterooms, featuring curved walls and 100-square-foot “studio” cabins with a shared hangout area.
Most of the new vessels will spend their original deployments outside of the United States, with much of the tonnage geared toward Europe. Some of the new ships scheduled for service this year include the Celebrity Equinox, Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam, Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth and Seabourn Cruises’ second Odyssey-class ship, the Sojourn.
China wants more cruising ‘action’
Efforts to grow China’s cruise industry are expected to result in 600,000 cruise passengers visiting Chinese sea ports by the end of this year. Chinese officials have announced a series of measures to increase cruise tourism, including streamlining customs procedures for passengers, permitting Chinese companies to start cruise operations and most significantly for cruise lines, easing cabotage restrictions enabling foreign flag cruise ships to call at more than one Chinese port on a single itinerary.
According to eTurboNews, this is just one example of the extensive investment in the industry that is taking place across the entire Asia-Pacific region. Asian countries are in a fast-emerging role in the global cruise market and hope to expand their presence greatly.