It’s no secret that the consumer is hurting these days, and that’s got a number of cruise lines pulling ships out of expensive overseas destinations and moving them closer to home. But don’t expect Princess Cruises to follow suit.
“We’ll be the very last line to bring ships back to North America,” says Princess CEO Alan Buckelew. “It will take a very, very difficult market situation for a long time” to make the line consider such a change.
Speaking to reporters Friday on the inaugural cruise of the line’s new Ruby Princess, Buckelew noted Princess has been a leader in cruises to far-flung destinations from Europe to South America to Asia for years, and it doesn’t want to lose ground in those regions.
“We sort of own those markets, and we will defend them very vigorously,” he said.
The “damn the torpedos” approach to the economic downturn is in stark contrast to several Princess competitors that are calling ships back from around the globe.
In September, Celebrity Cruises announced plans to pull the 2,038-passenger Celebrity Millennium from Australia and New Zealand in 2009 and beef up its offerings out of Baltimore and Charleston, S.C. Last month, Royal Caribbean said it would remove the 2,501-passenger Radiance of the Seas from South America in 2009 and expand cruises out of San Diego.
Also moving ships closer to home is Carnival, which announced last month that it will pull the Carnival Liberty from Europe in 2009 and expand capacity in Baltimore.
Cruises out of ports such as Baltimore that can be reached by car traditionally grow in appeal during tough economic times because they cost less overall. Bookings for longer, pricier overseas cruises that require expensive flights to reach often drop during tough times.
The cruise industry has been hit by a severe downturn in bookings the past two months as the meltdown of financial markets has caused widespread panic among consumers. But Buckelew notes that Princess, at least, hasn’t seen a lot of cancellations for trips already in the works.
Moreover, Buckelew says it’s clear the discounts the industry has begun offering to get people booking again are working. “When bargains are out there for cruises in the short term our customers are responding,” he says.