In round figures, 400 cruise ships currently operate around the world and, according to CLIA, 100 new ships will be built over the next 10 years. ITTN’s Neil Steedman asked Ben Bouldin, Associate Vice President and Managing Director, UK & Ireland, how Royal Caribbean International plans to develop, globally and in the Irish market.
Multi-award-winning cruise line Royal Caribbean International currently operates 26 ships – including 10 of the 15 largest cruise ships in the world – and has five more on order, with one to be delivered each year (excluding 2023) up to 2024. The most recent arrival, last year, was the 6,680-passenger Oasis-class Symphony of the Seas and the next will be the Quantum Ultra-class Spectrum of the Seas (above) later this year.
Will any of these five new arrivals replace existing ships? “It is feasible that we will have 31 ships by 2024, but we may sell one or two older ones, just as we have previously sold ships to our sister-company Pullmantur Cruises or what is now TUI’s Marella Cruises.”
Spectrum and the other Quantum Ultra-class ship due in 2020, Odyssey of the Seas, will each have capacity for 4,180 passengers, while the unnamed Oasis-class ship due in 2021 will carry 5,400 passengers – all lower than the capacities of existing Quantum and Oasis ships.
Why will that be so? “That is mainly because all of them will include more suites. For example, Spectrum, the first in our Quantum Ultra Class, will have revolutionary Suite Club accommodations with exclusive amenities such as private dining rooms, lounges and a solarium, together with our brand new two-level Ultimate Family Suite that will accommodate up to 11 people.”
The other two ships on order are the 200,000-ton, 5,000-passenger Icon-class ships due in 2022 and 2024, which will be powered by liquefied natural gas and introduce fuel cell technology, and may include features currently on Celebrity Edge such as the Infinite Veranda.
What will Icon-class ships bring to the RCI fleet? “I would simply say that the Icon class will prove to be as innovative a category of ships as has been the case with our Oasis class.”
In addition to new ships, Royal Caribbean is also refurbishing existing ships in a phased programme, with Navigator of the Seas due to be re-launched on 24th February 2019 after a US$115 million makeover.
Which ship will follow Navigator? “We have a US$1 billion Royal Amplified refurbishment programme underway. This began with Independence of the Seas, then Marina of the Seas, and now Navigator of the Seas is coming back next month, and then Oasis of the Seas will go into dry dock after her Barcelona season comes to an end.
“The programme is ‘progressive’, with each refurbishment adding new features to those introduced on previous ones. For example, Navigator of the Seas will include The Blaster, the world’s largest waterslide at sea in which a two-person raft will carry you along an 800-foot-long ride, including a section over the ship’s side!”
Does the size of RCI ships limit the number of ports they can visit? “While it is true that we can’t go into some destinations, we do go into 265 ports worldwide (excluding the Arctic and Antarctica) – and these include some ports that we could not go into before, because we are also developing the infrastructure at many ports around the world.”
One ‘new’ destination will be the opening in May 2019 of Perfect Day at CocoCay in the Bahamas, which will be the first in Royal Caribbean International’s new Perfect Day Island Collection of private island ‘multi-generational’ destinations around the world. Another will probably be Labadee in Haiti, with others in Asia and Australia.
How many private islands are planned for the Perfect Day Island Collection? “Michael Bayley, RCI’s Chief Executive, said in London recently that there are five in the pipeline, but that they would not be copies of CocoCay. There may be a further announcement soon after CocoCay opens in May.
“Six ships will call into CocoCay: Mariner and Navigator on three-to-four-night Bahamas cruises, Symphony and Harmony on seven-night West and East Caribbean cruises, and Adventure and Grandeur on eight-to-nine-night Bermuda cruises.”
How does RCI intend to develop its onboard entertainment – and also onboard facilities for physically and mentally disabled people? “We fearlessly defend our claim that we have the very best onboard entertainment, including headline shows such as Grease, Hairspray, Cats, and Mama Mia. Globally we are the biggest provider of West End/Broadway shows, along with the best theatres, and we attract the best talent in the industry. We also have our own cast members who provide high-quality ice and aqua shows, for example.
“We also pride ourselves on providing excellent vacations for people with all types of disabilities and with the appropriate facilities.”
RCI had 19.2% of the worldwide cruise market in 2018 by passengers and 14.0% by revenue. What are the global targets for 2019, what was your share of the Irish market last year, and are there any plans to home-port a ship in Ireland? “Our 2019 targets are ‘more than the above’! We are aggressively growing around the world, particularly in the USA where we are maximising the benefit of the US exchange rate, adding a ship in Vancouver for Alaska, and introducing those three-night / four-night cruises out of Florida to CocoCay that used to be seven-night cruises.
“The Irish market, including Northern Ireland, provides 8.5% of our UK & Ireland business. Northern Ireland had a fantastic year in 2018, while the Republic of Ireland had a great year.
“We do not plan to home-port in Ireland any time soon, but if it can be shown that people want to embark and disembark in Ireland then we will consider it. However, while Irish guests do travel to Southampton for our Northern European cruises, they prefer to start their Mediterranean cruises from Barcelona.
“Our crews love Irish guests, who love the international flavour of our ships. They also book earlier and book with travel agents, and they have a higher average spend than our UK guests.”
Albeit with 100 new ships over the next 10 years, do you foresee a plateau coming in the phenomenal growth of the global cruise market? “No, I don’t. Cruising is the new black of the holiday industry. Cruises now account for only 4% of the holiday market and, together, cruise lines are moving towards 10%.
“Our main competition is not other cruise lines but land-based package holidays. The cruise industry is trying to dispel the myths about cruising and is working with travel agents to educate clients about the many benefits of an all-inclusive cruise.
“For example, if you look at the best land-based resorts they do not have the facilities that Royal Caribbean International ships offer. That is one reason why we have a repeat rate of 50%!”