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(15-06-2009)

New York, New York (and Dover)

On June 4-6, The Cruise Examiner attended Travel Trade's 27th Cruise-A-Thon, held in New York this year, rather than Vancouver, a usual early June venue for these events. The new venue allowed the trade to inspect two of New York's three cruise terminals - the newly-renovated West Side Cruise Terminal in Manhattan and Cape Liberty in Bayonne, NJ, the home of Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara, but not the third terminal at Brooklyn now used by the Queen Mary 2 and Princess Cruises.
New York's cruise business has rebounded enough for it to host its first cruise convention in many years. Meanwhile, in the UK, Dover has attracted the UK Cruise Convention for the second time, after Southampton hosted it last year.


The Two Spring Conventions

While Travel Trade, backed by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) held its 27th Annual Cruise-A-Thon in New York June 4-5, the UK's Association of Cruise Experts (ACE) is holding its 3rd UK Cruise Convention in Dover this week, June 17-19. Each event attracts 500 plus delegates, confirming how strong the UK market is now. But an interesting difference is that while the UK event finishes at 2 pm on Friday, the US event runs on into the weekend. New York now has three cruise terminals, Southampton four as of this year, and Dover two in its Western Docks, while Seattle and Vancouver also have two each.


The Port of New York

Since the arrival of Cunard Line in July 1840, New York has been one of the world's most important passenger shipping ports. In more recent years, it has been eclipsed by the Florida ports of Miami, now handling in excess of 2 million passenger departures a year, and Port Everglades and Port Canaveral jockeying for second place with about 1.2 million each. New York, by comparison, handles about 635,000, divided between regular Bermuda sailings, now augmented by a return of direct Caribbean cruises, and Canada-New England departures. This places New York in distant fourth place in the US, just ahead of Los Angeles.

In recent years, year-round cruising has returned to New York, something that was popular in the 1970s, and was first revived in 2003 by Norwegian Cruise Line. This winter NCL will once more base two ships in New York, with the Norwegian Gem and Norwegian Jewel offering 10-night winter cruises to the Caribbean, much as Home Line's Oceanic did in years past. Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas will be the third year-round vessel.

New among summer visitors this year will be Costa Cruises, whose Costa Atlantica will operate a series of 11-night autumn departures to Canada and New England, turning at Quebec. She will compete with Holland America Line's and Princess Cruises' 10-night offerings.

While business is improving at New York, a smaller number of ships (just ten regular callers all year) compared to Vancouver, where last year's event was held, meant that not all agents who registered were able to inspect cruise ships, as the ship visits sold out before registration was completed. While Vancouver offered the full range of the Alaska cruise fleet, visits in New York were limited to Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas at Bayonne and the Carnival Triumph and Norwegian Dawn in Manhattan, plus American Cruise Line's 100-berth coastal cruiser American Star at Manhattan's Chelsea Piers.


The Port of Dover

As in New York, four ships will be available for inspection by UK travel agents at Dover this week, including Fred Olsen's stretched Braemar, the Crystal Symphony, Holland America's Prinsendam and the Tahitian Princess (soon to be renamed Ocean Princess). Dover is the UK's second largest cruise port after Southampton.

And much moreso than in New York, the cruise industry is booming in Dover. Just short of 275,000 cruise passengers passed through Dover's two cruise terminals in 2008, a 29% increase on 2007. Dover is doing much better than New York, as despite attracting new trade, New York's passenger numbers diminished slightly in 2008 compared to 2007, with a minor 1.5% decline in numbers, largely written down to the recession.

North American ports constitute a more or less mature cruise market and have suffered from the present recession, with an overall 3.6% decline in passengers departing on cruises in 2008. The UK, on the other hand. is still a strong growth market for cruising, and, aided by fare cuts introduced to stimulate cruise bookings, numbers have still been growing, with an 11% increase last year.


An Interesting Survey

With this as background, it is worth taking a look at the results of a poll of 3,000 UK cruise consumers that UK retailer cruise.co.uk has conducted in advance of this week's Dover event. One result, and perhaps the most interesting, is that the internet is said to be responsible for much of today's UK cruise growth, with more than a third of respondents claiming that it was the internet that had prompted them to book their last cruise. Coming from an on-line agency, the result may of course be skewed, as the responses would largely be from people who booked on line. However, more than two-thirds of respondents claim that they had booked their last cruise through an agent, with almost five to one booking by phone rather than on line. A rather large 19%, however, booked directly with cruise lines, in this case with slightly more than half booking on line than rather than by phone.

The UK public's opinion of travel agents is perhaps reflected in the fact that slightly over two-thirds say they never book through the same agent, while 25% say they are loyal to the same agent. This may say that many agents don't offer a good service, but the fact that a quarter remain loyal says that quite a large proportion of agents do still offer a good service.

Another telltale sign is that more than a third of respondents claimed to have booked on price while less than a quarter said they booked based on trust of the agents or their knowledge. Still, this says that for almost two-thirds price is not necessarily the bottom line. While 60% say that cruising has become cheaper, almost exactly the same number say that cruising has gone downmarket.


Overall

Although this year's UK event has yet to open, it shows all the signs of being another successful event. On the other hand, the move of Cruise-A-Thon from its usual venue in either Vancouver or Seattle to New York did not allow a visit to all three New York cruise terminals, nor did it allow all delegates to attend ship inspections. And where there used to be one or two dinners sponsored by cruise lines at Cruise-A-Thon, in New York there were none. Dover, on the other hand, will include two evening parties. The idea of celebrating or acknowledging agents seems to have disappeared in North America as either hard times or frugality (or both) set in.

Bottom line, The Cruise Examiner's opinion is that Vancouver, with its Convention Centre located right on the Canada Place cruise terminal, provides a much better venue for such an event than New York's Grand Hyatt Hotel, perched high above Grand Central Station. It would be interesting to get the opinion of Dan Hanrahan, president and chief execurtive of Celebrity and Azamara Cruises, who was a headliner at Cruise-A-Thon earlier this month and will be fulfilling the same role this week again in Dover.

(Source: By Mark Tré - Cybercruises.com)


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