A reduction in prices will bring an increase in the number of British cruisers this year, Carnival UK has claimed.
In its annual report, Carnival, Britain’s largest cruise line (it includes Cunard, P&O, Princess and Holland America among its brands), claims that 85 per cent of its holidays for 2009 have already been sold, representing a increase of around 25 per cent on last year.
Price cuts in the industry have become more widespread since the economic crisis began, with half-price holidays commonplace and one cruise line offering breaks for as little as £1.
David Dingle, chief executive of Carnival UK, believes that discounting has been a key factor in the continued growth in the British cruising market to around 1.5m passengers during 2008.
“People still intend to cruise, and we have become more proactive to ensure that we secure their bookings,” said Mr Dingle. “This meant increasing our product’s visibility and launching promotional pricing earlier than we would normally.”
He added that Carnival has cut prices for holidays in 2009 by up to 10 per cent on average, while capacity had grown by just two per cent.
Mr Dingle said that the small increase in capacity was “fortuitous”, given the current economic climate.
Other cruise lines have not been so lucky, as the launch of vast, new ships coincides with the worst economic downturn for years. They include two 5,400-capacity ships scheduled for launch by Royal Caribbean.
However, Carnival has already announced that its Ocean Village brand – which aims to attract younger, less traditional cruisers – will stop operating by the end of next year.
With at least 40 new ships to be launched by 2012 – including 17 by Carnival brands – the industry may face tougher tests in the coming years, with heavy discounting likely to become a recurring theme.
A statement from Fred Olsen acknowledged that prices were being cut in order to stimulate growth, but it also claimed that sales were ahead of last year’s figures.
The rise in capacity comes at a time when the major operators are cutting back on the number of holidays they offer.
In December, Britain’s two biggest tour operators, Tui Travel and Thomas Cook, announced reductions in capacity of 20 per cent and 27 per cent, respectively.