MAINSTREAM cruiselines are offering massive discounts of up to 70% off brochure prices in an attempt to stimulate bookings for summer 1999.
Although the market has grown steadily at around 22% a year since 1994, the Passenger Shipping Association is predicting growth of only 10% for 1999.
Thomson has scrapped two of the four ships it charters - the 1,200-cabin Island Breeze and 570-berth Sapphire - for 2000 and has introduced early booking offers to boost advanced sales.
Thomson cruise marketing manager David Selby said:"We've had a flat year in 1999.There has been some late dis-counting. We don't like doing that as we want to encourage forward bookings. We have decided to keep capacity tight."
One industry source said Thomson has been feeling the pressure from rival Airtours, which has just launched a fourth ship.
First Choice entered the market this year with one ship and is committed to chartering a second ship, Ausonia, for 2000, which will be based in Palma, Majorca.
Costa Cruises UK managing director Peter Richardson said it is currently selling cruises at 30%-35% below brochure price.
"We would expect to be discounting at this time of year, but not by as much," said Richardson.
Industry observers believe the slump is being compounded by too many ships saturating the market.
Royal Caribbean International will launch Voyager of the Seas this November and another 10 new ships will enter the market in 2000.
Howard Foreman, general manager of All Abroad in Leeds, said: "There may be an increase of 10%-15% in people taking a cruise, but the number of berths is increasing by the same amount.
"Royal Caribbean International is now selling £1,300 seven-night cruises in the Mediterranean for £699 and Thomson is finding it difficult to compete with thatas its ships are 20 and 30 years old."
Atlantis Travel manager Jeremy Scott said:"There is still a lot to sell and cruiselines are getting itchy feet.
"Some are selling at up to 70% off the brochure price. I think that most people don't know what they are doing on December 31, let alone later in 2000."
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