Dubrovnik, Croatia, is a popular stop
for cruisers in Europe.
At the European Cruise Industry 2008 Conference in Brussels, David
Dingle proclaimed Europe to be “cruising’s new center of gravity.”
Indeed, the CEO of Carnival UK and chairman of the European
Cruise Council has good reason to make such a claim. Cruising in
Europe is experiencing a tidal surge: 2006, the last year for which
final figures were available, saw 15.2 million passenger visits in
European ports (a 21 percent increase over the previous year); and
the number of Europeans taking cruises increased by 9 percent, for
a total of 3.4 million cruisers.
Moreover, North American-based cruise lines are placing 23
percent more capacity in Europe this year than last. It’s
questionable, however, whether bookings on this side of the Big
Pond are keeping pace with the capacity increase.
“Our European bookings for the first quarter of 2008 are running
slightly ahead of first quarter 2007,” said Greg Nacco, director of
Seattle’s Cruise Specialists. “We would like to think it’s because
the public understands the great value that a European cruise
represents when compared to paying for a land vacation in
But, Nacco added, the increased capacity has resulted in a
multitude of cruise line offers, particularly for the Med, and that
may be what’s driving consumers.
One of the bigger obstacles that U.S. travel agents are facing
this year is not the declining dollar against the euro, but the
cost of getting their clients to Europe, said Eric Maryanov of Los
Angeles-based All-Travel.com. Tapping sources closer to ports of
departure, cruise lines are marshaling marketing resources within
Europe. And so are ports. In a September press release titled, “The
Cruise Tourist of the Future Comes From Southern Europe,” Cruise
Baltic, a European Union-subsidized entity, comprised of 26 port
destinations in 10 countries, speculated that an increasing number
of its cruise passengers would come from Italy and Spain. The
Baltic Sea region is already “the first cruise experience for four
out of 10 Italians,” said Bo Nylandsted Larsen, director of Cruise
European travel agents are ebullient about the interest in
cruising on their home turf. Jean Alen of Cruise Travel in Antwerp,
Belgium, said his company has seen a steady increase in cruise
sales ranging from 15 percent to 20 percent annually.
“Cruising is the fastest-growing segment in tourism over here,”
Alen said. “We expect to triple or at least double the number of
cruisers in Belgium during the next few years.”
Still, North Americans represent the dominant source market for
cruise passengers in Europe and organizations like Cruise Baltic
are gearing up to gain even more market share from North America.
Cruise Baltic’s efforts, aimed at travel agents, were unveiled
during CLIA’s Cruise3Sixty when officials announced the Cruise
Baltic Travel Agent Academy
(www.travelagentacademy.com/cruisebaltic) and a Cruise Baltic
Virtual Travel Seminar
“Last year, travel agents attending CLIA’s conference told us
they wanted a tool to assist them in getting to know more about the
region,” Larsen said. “A year later, we have an excellent training
program to offer them.”
In a reversal of sorts, some U.S.-based cruise sellers see
opportunities within Europe.
“We are looking at how we might want to move into Europe and are
still examining the different offers and alternatives that we have
had,” said Brad Anderson, America’s Vacation Center.
The timing could not be better for American companies thinking
of setting up shop in Europe. In Brussels, Dingle likened cruising
in Europe to the U.S. 10 to 15 years ago. Since cruising is more
mature in the U.S. than in Europe, American cruise sellers could
potentially export their expertise. Agents wanting to do business
in Europe, however, should come prepared. Despite the European
Union, Europe remains largely fragmented. Traveling only a few
hours from Norway to Sweden to Denmark to Germany, for example,
requires that you have four different currencies in your pocket. Of
those countries, only Germany uses the euro. Also be prepared to
produce collateral in several different languages.
For those watching the ships come and go in ports like
Copenhagen, Venice, Barcelona, Southampton and Civitavecchia, it
surely must seem as though cruising has found a new “center of
gravity.” Observers on this side of the Atlantic, however, may be
inclined to see it another way: Gravity requires mass, and the mass
of ships and cruisers still reside on this side of the Big
It’s not cruising that has found its new center of gravity in
age-old Europe but the continent’s vacation industry. Cruising,
which Europeans once perceived as an exclusive pleasure for only
the rich, is finally making waves. It’s about time.