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(17-05-2010)

Cross-Border Cruise Sales - Twiggy to Name Seabourn Sojourn - Northern Expedition - Stena Hollandica



by Mark Tre' - "The Cruise Examiner"

Last month the subject of cross-border cruise sales arose in the "Cruise Talk" forum and this month it appeared in "Cruise Week" newsletter. Twiggy has been chosen to name the Seabourn Sojourn. And on the tourist side, British Columbia prepares for the second season of its Inside Passage ferry Northern Expedition, packaging her up with hotels, while Stena Line yesterday introduced the world's largest roll-on/passenger ferry, the Stena Hollandica, on the Harwich-Hook of Holland route.


STORY OF THE WEEK

Cross-Border Cruise Sales: Who Wins - Who Loses?

Early last month an Australian contributor to the "Cruise Talk" forum complained that a US agent had advised him "If you are a citizen of US or Canada, we can sell to you any cruise offer. Unfortunately, Celebrity, Costa, HAL, MSC, Oceania, Princess, RCL and Star Clippers now prohibit all US travel agencies from selling cruises to citizens of countries other than the US and Canada, unless they have a residence in the US or Canada."

In fact, for the past decade, cruise buyers in both European countries and Australia, aided by internet searches, have often been able to find lower cruise fares in the US, and the best-known agent doing this, Vacations To Go, now features this proclamation on its web site, with the additions of "Residents of Mexico are permitted to book Princess through Vacations To Go" and "Residents of the U.K. may not book P&O Cruises through Vacations To Go."

P&O Cruises is probably the longest-standing cruise line to maintain this kind of policy, having traditionally refused to sell tickets to non-residents. A good example of this occurred in Australia, where ships cruising from Sydney often offered lower fares on the local market while the line charged more to UK residents on tickets sold in the UK. From there, this spread to affiliate Princess Cruises. Slowly, Princess in Los Angeles stopped taking bookings from people with overseas addresses, and then from people with overseas credit cards.

This applied not only to Brits, but also to the Swiss, for example, who were referred back to Kuoni to buy tickets, even if they applied in Florida - and usually at a much higher fare. Another Brit who tried to buy an Alaska cruise from Princess Cruises in the US was told to book through a UK agent. In both these examples, the potential clients were quoted higher prices at home and in both cases they booked with another line. So what is the sense of this kind of policy in this age of modern and instant communication through the Internet?

There are even some inconsistencies. A decade ago, when it was possible for UK residents to obtain tickets from Princess Cruises in North America for a Royal Princess cruise from Dover, the cost was about £200 per person less than they would have paid at home. This works both ways, however, as in 2010 a UK resident buying a cruise on the Crown Princess from Southampton this summer can typically pay about £250 per person less than someone buying the same ticket in North America.

Since Cunard Line has entered into the same grouping as P&O and Princess this restriction of cross-border sales has also been implemented there, and this has become a problem for agents who are used to selling international tickets in international markets.

Of course, the cruise lines who prohibit this kind of selling maintain that it is to enable them to maintain their network of general sales agents in different markets around the world, and in this regard, this is as true of Star Clippers as it is of P&O or Princess, and also Holland America Line. Carnival Cruise Lines, however, do not seek to restrain the market in this way.

"Cruise Week's" Ralph Grizzle had a look at this subject in his weekly newsletter on May 5, reporting that as more international clients began buying cruise tickets from North American cruise agents, local agents in the clients' own markets had begun to complain. One result seems to be that Royal Caribbean and Celebrity have now joined P&O, Princess and Cunard in trying to restrict cross-border cruise sales. Grizzle speculates that as the North American cruise lines saw their foreign bookings rise from just 7% of heir business to 25% some lines were trying to protect their Euro revenues from attrition by the purchase of cheaper dollar tickets in North America.

Grizzle also points out that despite some Australian agents trying to scare their potential buyers by warning them that they will not be allowed to board ship if they book their cruises abroad, this seems to be an agent-invented myth. No one he spoke to had ever heard of an international client being refused boarding for having bought a cruise ticket outside their country of residence.

And to complicate matters, laws and practices of the trade differ between markets. In North America, for example, deposits have typically been fully refundable up to the date of final payment whereas in the UK deposits are universally non-refundable. Not only that, but whereas the final payment date is 56 or 60 days before sailing, and increasingly 90 days prior in North America, in Germany the final payment date is only 30 days in advance and Germans, like Americans, are entitled to a full refund up until that date.

What is more interesting, however, is how such policies might be interpreted in the international courts. In the case of Apple's sales of iTunes in Europe, for example, the European Commission forced Apple to reduce the price of downloads for UK customers in 2008, as a result of a complaint started by consumer group Which? When the complaint was first filed in 2007, UK prices had been 10% to 20% more than elsewhere in Europe. As evidenced in an earlier European decision against Microsoft, however, fines for wrong-doing can be particularly onerous in Europe, where they can be up to 10% of turnover (as opposed to profits).

The European Commission maintained that Apple was breaking article 18 of the EC treaty governing restrictive business practices by illegally limiting where customers could purchase tracks by setting prices higher in certain jurisdictions. At one stage Apple was threatened with a fine of up to $600 million, but after agreeing in 2008 to equalise its iTune pricing across Europe the commission said it would take no further action. The result for consumers, however, was a 15% drop in the price of iTunes downloads in the UK market.

Apple's sales were about $19 billion when the complaint was first filed and according to a study for the European Cruise Council direct spending by cruise lines and their passengers in Europe in 2008 was about 14.2 billion, or close to the same level. Any particular action, however, would have to be taken against individual companies and not the industry as a whole.


THIS WEEK IN CRUISING

Twiggy to Name Seabourn Sojourn

On June 4 at Greenwich, Lesley Hornby, better known as model and actress Twiggy, will become the Godmother of Yachts of Seabourn's second new ship of three, the Seabourn Sojourn. Joining the Seabourn Odyssey, the Sojourn has just been completed at the T Mariotti shipyard in Genoa.

The new 30,000-ton trio are joining the original 10,000-ton trio and at 450 passengers are reckoned to be the largest number of guests that can be served and still maintain the well-known Seabourn level of service. The Restaurant 1 will be able to accommodate all guests at once. An innovation for these ships is The Square, brainchild of Carnival ceo Micky Arison. In The Square a multipurpose reception area replaces the traditional purser's desk and houses the concierge, library, internet centre, coffee shop and a comfortable seating area.

The new Seabourn Sojourn leaves Genoa in ten or eleven days time, on May 28, for Dover and Greenwich. On June 6, she departs on her maiden voyage, a 14-day cruise to Scotland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, the Norwegian Fjords and Amsterdam. At the end of the summer she will make her first Transatlantic crossing from Lisbon to Fort Lauderdale, where she will be introduced to the American market.


BC Ferries Vacations

British Columbia Ferries' new 8,187-ton Inside Passage night ferry Northern Expedition having entered service a year ago now on the fifteen-hour route between Port Hardy on Vancouver Island and Prince Rupert, its owners have decided to open a division called BC Ferries Vacations. With an office at the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel at Canada Place in Vancouver, it will offer about twenty tourist packages that include ferry travel, accommodation and activities such as salmon fishing, grizzly bear or whale watching tours.

With a maximum capacity for 600 passengers, the Flensburg-built overnight ship features fifty-five overnight passenger cabins and public rooms including the Vista Restaurant, Canoe Cafe, Aurora Lounge and Raven Lounge.

The Northern Expedition will operate this popular tourist route between May 18 and September 30. Although first introduced in 1966, the route has recently come under criticism for losing $25 million in 2008-09, when it carried 45,000 passengers, or a loss of $540 each. But BC Ferries has recently announced that it will not proceed with a planned new route between Vancouver's Tsawwassen terminal and Port Hardy that would have connected with the Inside Passage service.


At her northern terminus in Prince Rupert, the Northern Expedition connects with BC Ferries fleetmate the Northern Adventure, running to the Queen Charlotte Islands, and the Alaska Marine Highway System ferries to the Alaska panhandle cities of Ketchikan, Wrangell, Juneau and Skagway with overnight ferries such as the Taku and Matunuska. Many North Americans prefer this way of seeing BC and Alaska to taking a cruise so early reservations are always advised.

The 9,925-ton Northern Adventure also carries 600 passengers but has 74 cabins. This ship was built between 2001 and 2004 in Greece and started life as the Sonia, trading out of Barcelona and also between Trinidad and Tobago before joining BC Ferries in 2006.


Largest RoPax Ferry Enters Service

Not a cruise ship, but this 60,500-ton behemoth entered service yesterday on the overnight ferry service from Harwich International to Hook of Holland, to become the world's largest ropax ferry, at least in terms of her capacity for 5,500 lane metres of vehicle traffic. But she also carries 1,3,76 beds in 538 cabins, some of which can accommodate a family of five, on her six-hour night crossings to Holland and day crossings back to England. She will be joined this autumn by a sister ship, the Stena Britannica, now being completed in the same shipyard at Wismar, Germany. On board services on both ships include a la carte and buffet restaurants, bar, lounge, cinema and internet corner.

While Stena Line has occasionally in the past offered cruises, particularly from its native Sweden, its ferries are also available for short-stay excursions in various centres around the Netherlands and Belgium, as well as Ireland on its Irish routes.
The Harwich-Hook of Holland route offers an interesting plan called "Rail and Sail," whereby one can book right through from London's Liverpool Street Station to any station in the Netherlands and vice versa. It is possibly the only service in the world that still offers boat trains at each end.

An exhibition at the National Railway Museum in York, called "Once Upon A Tide," celebrates 100 years of North Sea rail-ferry crossings to Europe. Open until the 6th September, on display is a large collection of posters and personal recollections of travellers on the history of North Sea ferry crossings between Harwich and Hook. The museum's famous locomotive turntable has been transformed into a Stena Line roll-on, roll-off ferry.


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