RCI cruises ahead with new itineraries

Royal Caribbean International’s Helen Beck tells TTN’s CLARK KELLY that the company has already reached 59 per cent of total business projections for the year

ROYAL Caribbean International is offering travellers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa closer proximity to sailings in a bid to expand their markets outside the region, according to a company spokesperson.

Helen Beck, regional sales director, international representatives Europe, Middle East and Africa, told TTN that while the North American market currently represents 75 to 80 per cent of Royal Caribbean’s business, the company does not want ‘to put all our eggs into one basket’.
“We have a number of new itineraries and extra sailings in Europe bearing in mind that 70 per cent of our guests from the Middle East opt for Mediterranean and North European itineraries. We will have two of our Voyager class ships deployed in Europe for the 2007 summer season: Voyager of the Seas will resume her very popular seven-night Western Mediterranean cruises whilst Navigator of the Seas will sail from Southampton on a series of Mediterranean cruises,” she said.
“One of most exciting developments which will certainly please our Middle East based guests is the deployment of Rhapsody of the Seas into Asia later in the year.  Rhapsody of the Seas will be offering a series of itineraries ranging in duration from four to 12 nights and departures from Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore.”
Also set to sail this year is Liberty of the Seas, RCI’s newest ship currently under construction. Liberty of the Seas will be the second Freedom class ship to join the fleet and after her European inaugural sailings in April she will sail to Miami to commence seven-night alternative Western and Eastern Caribbean cruises.
The cruise line is bullish about prospects for 2007, she says, with the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) forecasting a year of formidable growth, with 12.62 million cruise passengers predicted to set sail in 2007, an increase of approximately one half-million guests over 2006. The forecasted 500,000-passenger increase represents a 4.1 per cent year-over-year growth commensurate with the planned net increase in 2007 CLIA-member line capacity. “As far as the Royal Caribbean Europe, Middle East and Africa region is concerned, we are having a phenomenal start to the year – we are currently booked 44 per cent over the same period last year, and have achieved 59 per cent of our overall Plan.”
In terms of last year’s achievements, she said the hugely successful launch of Freedom of the Seas in May was definitely one of the biggest achievements. At 160,000 gross tonnes, Freedom of the Seas is the largest cruiseliner in the world and her debut saw the introduction of the first ever Flowrider onboard surfing park. “With its indoor ice skating rink, rock climbing wall, cantilevered whirlpools and H2O water park, this ship is certainly proving that the Royal Caribbean experience is way more than a cruise,” Beck said.
Responding to a question about the company’s strategy in the face of increased competition with new cruise routes in this region, she said the company does not have any firm plans at present to bring its ships into the region. “So we are not competing with the cruise lines already here. Obviously, the presence of any cruise ships anywhere in the world helps to create awareness of cruising and that is a good thing.”
In related news, RCI has announced plans to deploy Independence of the Seas – the third in its new Freedom class of ships – in the United Kingdom, when she debuts in May 2008. Sharing the title of the largest, most innovative cruise ship in the world with sister ships, Freedom of the Seas and the soon-to-be-launched Liberty of the Seas, Independence of the Seas will be the largest ship ever to be home-ported in Europe.
Following a series of preview sailings in Oslo, Hamburg and Southampton, Independence of the Seas will embark on her maiden voyage in mid-May 2008, alternating 14-night ‘Mediterranean Treasures’ and ‘Italian Mediterranean’ itineraries with ports of call set to include stops in Mediterranean Europe. Bookings are open for sale.