Holland America Targets Younger Clients

Big new Vista-class vessels to offer Internet access in cabins, more sports facilities and larger spa

By: Karen Goodwin

With many new ships coming into service over the next few years capacity will increase 17% in 2003 alone most cruise lines are continuing to look beyond their traditional markets to fill all the new berths, not to mention the old ones.

Most travel companies are after the rich, aging baby- boomer market, but there are only so many well-off 50-somethings to go around. New markets often demand new products, and Holland America Line has made waves with plans to introduce five new Vista-class ships, the first of which the Zuiderdam begins sailing seven-day Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises in December.

The line is getting its groove back after a summer of well-publicized problems, such as a breakdown of the Statendam’s generator system, an outbreak of Norwalk virus aboard the Ryndam and lawsuits filed by families of passengers who died on a HAL-recommended flight shore excursion in Mexico.

But now it’s full speed ahead for the line, which has designed its 85,000-ton, 1,848-passenger Vista-class ships for a 45-plus audience a younger crowd than HAL usually gets, according to Mark Kammerer, vice president of marketing. Kammerer told 100 of HAL’s top-producing Centurion travel agents aboard the Amsterdam recently that the line wants to position itself as the best mass-market premium cruise line, shedding its image of stodginess and replacing it with one of elegance and sophistication.

The agents, guests of HAL on a seven-day Alaska cruise, were told that the line plans to spend heavily on print and TV ads that emphasize passenger flexibility and freedom.

Two-thirds of the 254-square-foot cabins aboard the new Vista-class ships will be standard outside accommodations with balconies. Eighty-five percent of the staterooms will have ocean views.

“They’ll have 40% more space but only 25% more guests,” Kammerer said. Next year, two more Vista-class ships will come on line, increasing HAL’s capacity by 30% and further accelerating its penetration of the younger market, said David Giersdorf, senior vice president-marketing and sales.

HAL hopes to attract more of that audience with Internet access in each cabin, more balconies, more dining choices, more onboard sports (basketball, golf, tennis and swimming), a concierge lounge exclusively for penthouse and deluxe veranda suite guests and, of course, expanded spa facilities.

The new ships will be concentrated mostly in the Caribbean, Alaska and Europe.

New markets for HAL in 2003 include New York-Caribbean, the Baltic, Hawaii and Japan/China/ Hong Kong.