ABTA 2009: Discounting has opened cruise to wider market

Discounts are bad for agents and cruiselines' profits, but they have opened the cruise industry to a wider market, Carnival Corporation chairman and chief executive officer Micky Arison told The Travel Convention.

"This year Carnival Corporation will carry eight million passengers, and three million of those will be on their first cruise. That is what we want to achieve," he said.

Cruiselines owned by Carnival Corporation include the Carnival UK brands P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises, Ocean Village and Cunard, Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America Line, Costa Cruises, and Yachts of Seabourn.

Arison said things had looked bad 12 months ago, as scared consumers stopped buying, which dented the business, but that booking patterns have strengthened since the summer, helping Carnival Corporation realise a third-quarter, $1 billion profit last month.

"People realised they wanted a holiday. Bookings have improved, not at prices we would like, but if they continue to improve, I hope prices will as well," Arison said.

In response to a question about ship envy from moderator Jeremy Vine, Arison ruled out a "who can build biggest" contest with Royal Caribbean International. Vine was referring to Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas, to be launched in December, which will carry 5,400 passengers.

Arison said Cunard's Queen Mary 2 is the biggest ship in the Carnival Corporation fleet and will probably stay the largest. Last month, Carnival Cruise Lines launched the 130,000-ton Carnival Dream. Arison said: "We have no intention of building bigger."

He added: "Some people want a holiday in the malls of America, and others want to be on a cruise. With big ships you have less flexibility in terms of the ports you can visit. We study these things because we want ships that can go into lots of ports and places."

Arison said he often gets involved in the design of Carnival ships. On Seabourn Odyssey, for instance, he decided to keep the circular staircase that is on other Seabourn ships, hide the other staircases to generate a yacht-like atmosphere and create Seabourn Central, offering a concierge service for all passengers.

He said: "Ship design is mainly the responsibility of the brands, but I will critique and tweak things."

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