Cruising from the UK is set to take off more this year as consumers look for ways to cut costs during the recession.
Ex-UK cruising has been growing consistently for the past five years, increasing by 44% between 2004 and 2007, to a total 444,000 passengers, according to the Passenger Shipping Association. Figures for last year are expected soon.
Princess Cruises head of brand marketing Pieter van der Schee said clients like the fact that there are no flight hassles if they cruise from the UK, that they get to visit seven ports in the Mediterranean and spend a few days at sea, but said the recession has added a financial enticement.
“People are looking at costs and ex-UK cruises offer great value because there are no flights to pay for.”
He added: “Passengers pay for their holiday up front in pounds, and the cost covers all their accommodation, meals and entertainment. It’s like having a holiday at home, but they still get to go abroad.”
Last week the TWcruise supplement had a section on cruising from the UK in recognition of the importance of this sector.
As passenger numbers have increased, so has the number of cruiselines basing ships in UK ports. TWcruise listed 12 cruiselines with 22 ships home-ported in the UK and noted more to come.
Celebrity Cruises is offering sailings from Southampton for the UK market for the first time next year on new ship Celebrity Eclipse. The cruiseline is also offering an inaugural voyage from Southampton to the Norwegian fjords on Celebrity Equinox in July.
Next year P&O Cruises and Cunard will also each have a new ship, Azura and Queen Elizabeth, sailing from Southampton. P&O released artist's impressions of Azura last week.
Van der Schee said while keen prices are a key selling point, agents should also push the benefits of cruising from the UK. “There are still a lot of people who have never cruised before who need to be sold the benefits.”
He said Princess has about 40% more capacity to sell this summer because it has switched the 1,950-passenger Sea Princess for the 2,600-passenger Grand Princess but sales are on target with about the same sold as this time last year.
Association of Cruise Experts business development director Andy Harmer said 2009 looks set to be a great year for cruising from the UK as people look to cut spending.
He said: “We’ve got a great spread of ships sailing from the UK and offering easy access to all the popular destinations. As there are no flights, price-wise it makes sense for people trying to make savings.”
Harmer said many agents are pushing ex-UK mini-cruises to new-to-cruise clients, as it’s a low-cost holiday and helps to get them interested in cruising. “That benefits the whole industry,” he added.
Fred Olsen Cruise Lines offers cruises from seven UK ports and said passenger numbers are up on last year.
General sales manager Lol Nichols said “The price difference between our ex-UK departures and flycruises is not so great, but we promote the hassle-free factor of
cruising from the UK.”
Braemar, which was to operate a flycruise programme from Civitavecchia, Italy this year, is now instead sailing from Dover.
Nichols said: “We changed it because of the cost to us of getting passengers to the ship, but there is also a strong demand for cruises from the UK.”
Royal Caribbean Cruises associate vice-president and general manager UK and Ireland Jo Rzymowska said: “People are more cost-conscious and are looking to stay closer to home.
"Cruising from the UK is very attractive, but there is not such a big price differentiation with Europe and there are still people who want to get straight to the sun.”
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