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More Aussies and Kiwis cruising than ever before

Cruising industry explodes in Australia and New Zealand

The news is out: the cruising industry in Australia and New Zealand has never been healthier. More ships, more destinations and a lot more passengers. Latest statistics are incredibly impressive, but why is this happening? In what's purported to be a time of global financial instability, where disposable income is increasingly under pressure for singles and families, holiday life on the ocean wave could not be better. Well, there are a number of factors.

More passengers than ever before

When the general manager of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), Brett Jardine, announced the figure for New Zealanders taking a cruise holiday in 2013, there was an audible gasp.
 
It was just a few weeks ago at the Heritage Hotel, Auckland. I was gathered alongside my cruising peers, as the Cruise Industry Source Market Report NZ 2013 was being announced. This is the only comprehensive, documented analysis of cruising numbers, patterns and demographics and was first produced in 2006. CLIA is composed of more than 55 of the world's major cruise lines (around 95%), so its annual results are always eagerly anticipated.
 
In terms of New Zealanders, the cruise passenger market in 2013 leapt a massive 23% on 2012. In layman's terms, this figure hit 59,316.The previous high had been 56,479 in 2011 and revealed that the market had more than doubled in size in seven years. Perhaps more remarkably, that 23% growth rate was the highest increase in the world, surpassing Australia, France and Germany.
 
New Zealand Passengers Figure

Aussie cruising on a high

Just a few weeks previously, the Australian numbers for 2013 also raised eyebrows - a record 833,348 passengers, a 20% increase on 2012. With around 3.6% of the population getting onboard, market penetration had overtaken the North American market at 3.3% - an incredible result. The news was so well received, insiders believe that the milestone of one million Australian cruise passengers should be reached by 2016; the previous target was 2020!
 
Australia Passengers Figure
 
In the increasingly competitive tourism industry, where bargain online trips, getaways, breaks and deals are commonplace, cruising is actually increasing its drawing power. In 2011, the industry in America was estimated to be worth a cool US$29.4 billion.
 
It hasn't always been this way. With a tradition of nearly 200 years (the first leisure cruise company evolved in 1822), this method of holidaying has been traditionally viewed as somewhat old-fashioned and restrictive. Back in the 1990s, cruise companies found themselves under increasing pressure and many failed, with 'Brands' becoming more prominent. Even in recent years, the Costa Concordia disaster of 2012 stuck a dagger into the heart of the industry, while fewer ships have been commissioned.

Younger customers getting onboard

But Down Under the numbers speak for themselves. Shane Gibbons is business development manager for Carnival Cruise Lines Australia and believes there's a definite sea-change in how cruise travel is being perceived.
 
"The perception used to be that it's for the older demographic. P&O were seen as 'party' ships, while Princess was for 55-plus and there was nothing in-between. This is no longer the case. People in their 20s and 30s are regulars and the demographic age has dropped. I've worked in cruising for nearly 15 years, but there's a definite excitement about the industry right now, especially in Australasia."
So, why is business in such rude health?

Key factors to cruising success in Australasia:

  • Image and innovation: I would suspect this is a massive contributor to increased passenger numbers. The Edge activities on P&O Pacific Jewel are just one example. This is a remarkable adventure park, with a Flying Fox, Slackline Bouncing Bridge, Stand-up Paddle Boarding and the Titanic moment for those romantics among you. Not to be outdone, Carnival will get your pulses racing with two decks' worth of a fitness centre, a jogging track and Green Thunder(thesteepest and fastest waterslide at sea). Royal Caribbean has recently launched high-tech inventions to their Quantum Class, with the North Star capsule taking you more than 300ft in the air and the Two70 transforming from a spectacular viewing point to three-storey video wall. In terms of entertainment and the 'wow factor', boundaries are consistently being pushed back.
  • Food: With Jamie Oliver onboard, you're bound to get some quality grub, but this is now the case for most cruise ships. The selection of restaurants and menus is now quite vast, ranging from formal dining to hot rock grills, self-serve buffets and specialty restaurants. There may be extra charges involved, but with such an impressive selection, it's difficult not to tuck in. 
  • Child-friendly: Cruise holidays are ideal for families, with the kids enjoying an ocean adventure, while the parents also get valuable time to themselves. All of the major brands tailor to different age groups, with various kids clubs and camps. Online reviews are overwhelmingly very positive. However, only some offer babysitting services.
  • Destinations and duration:According to 2013 figures, the most popular destination for Australian (39.7) and Kiwi cruisers (31%) was the South Pacific. The likes of Bora Bora, Easter Island and Fiji will always be top of travellers' bucket lists. But with more ports of call than ever before, shore excursions are also on the rise. New destinations such as Papua New Guinea are appealing for a cruise holiday. Also, the notion that you have to spend an extended amount of time onboard is no longer the case. There are cruises that last just a handful of days.
  • Deployments of spare ships: In terms of Australasia a number of extra ships are being deployed Down Under, with the market under pressure in America and Europe. Big cruise lines from the US are sending their ships to the Southern Hemsiphere. The response to this has been exceptional, as Brett Jardine can confirm: "We've kept filling the ships and they've kept sending them."
  • Social media: The cruise community online is massive. On the Cruise Sale Finder Facebook page alone there are nearly 60,000 likes. You are very much part of a cruising 'family' and various websites are proving increasingly popular. Word of mouth is always important, with internet reviews, articles and user-comments allowing brands to get their product out there quicker. It's also an opportunity for them to iron out any major issues that are discussed and gather traction on the web.
  • I'm a celebrity, get me on a cruise: Well aware of 'personality power', those in the public eye are happily jumping on a cruise ship. Australian Shannan Ponton of Biggest Loser fame has taken a Carnival boot camp, while British chef Jamie Oliver recently launched a Jamie's Italian cruise restaurant courtesy of Royal Caribbean.
  • Value for money and convenience: These core tenets of cruise travel will always remain. There are millions of people who cruise more than once, who love how easy a cruise trip is. You unpack once, everything is in walking distance, you can visit numerous different cities or countries and meals are included in the ticket. Throw in a fantastic community atmosphere and world-class entertainment and you have a recipe for continued success.
But what about the future? Well, in terms of Australia and New Zealand the outlook is undoubtedly positive. Royal Caribbean are making Legend of the Seas their fourth ship to be based in Australasia, while Azamara Quest will be cruising waters Down Under in 2016. Perhaps even more significant is P&O announcing two new ships for its Australian fleet from November 2015, recently named by the general public. I shall leave the final words to Ryan Taibel, director of sales for P&O and Cunard.
 
"We have to constantly innovate. The cruise industry itself was an innovation and we just have to keep developing product. The key is first-time cruisers. And if you look at Australia geographically, the coastal locations are perfect. We can continue to be a global leader." You can't argue with that.

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