Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has members in 15 countries and throughout October 2016 is promoting a worldwide campaign, Plan a Cruise Month.
Andy Harmer, the organisation’s European Vice President of Operations, visited Newcastle-upon-Tyne during September. We met at Artisan, a chic restaurant serving modern British cuisine within The Biscuit Factory, a contemporary art gallery in the city’s Ouseburn district.
In an exclusive interview, Mr Harmer discussed CLIA, recent developments within the cruise industry and Plan a Cruise Month.
“We’re encouraging customers to think about planning their next cruise. If it’s their first cruise and they want expert advice then people should speak to their travel agent,” he said about the purpose of holding the month long initiative.
“It gives us, throughout the month, the chance to talk about the different types of cruises that are available. We’ve broken the month up into four weeks. We’ve got a family week. We’ve got a discovery week, when we talk about small ships and destination cruising. We have a week talking about river cruising and a week talking about luxury cruising and cruises for special occasions,” he added.
CLIA’s Plan a Cruise Month
Throughout the month cruise lines will be making special offers available for both first timers and returning cruise customers.
“It gives us a chance to talk about the range of cruise holidays available,” said Mr Harmer, about the purpose of Plan a Cruise Month.
Of CLIA, Mr Harmer said, “We bring together all of the cruise lines into one association. We’re here so that people understand the options and the choice and value offered through cruise holidays. We work with 60 different cruise lines, all offering something very different to their customers. It’s about an industry working together to get more people to cruise.”
Over lunch we discussed the changing demographic of the cruise industry. The appeal of cruise holidays is broadening—it’s no longer true that only older travellers aspire to take cruises.
The variety of cruise holidays
“There are hundreds of different ships in all shapes and sizes. The smallest we have has 50 guests and the largest around 6,000. There really is a cruise for everyone,” said Mr Harmer, dismissing the stereotype of cruise holidays being characterised by formal dinners on vast, luxury vessels.
“If you’re looking for that big ship experience with loads of activities and lots of restaurants then there is that option for you. If you’re looking for something that’s a bit smaller, that get into some of the smaller ports and focuses on destinations then that’s available. Or if you’re looking for a river cruise—river cruising is really starting to take off. If you want to discover Asia, North America or Europe then a river cruise could be for you,” he suggested.
“I think a cruise holiday is for everyone. It can be whatever you’re looking for. It’s not one stereotypical version of a holiday,” he added.
The state of the cruise industry
The cruise industry has seen marked growth in recent years, I heard, when asking about the recent developments.
“Cruising is growing incredibly quickly. In 2015 1.8 million British people took a cruise holiday. It was a record year. Globally, last year, 24 million people took a cruise,” explained CLIA’s European VP.
“I think the second thing is we’re seeing innovation and creativity. Every time a ship is launched it gives us, as an industry, the opportunity to add on something new and something different,” he added.
“People’s tastes in holidays are changing. The way people go on holiday is changing. As an industry we’re changing very much to keep up with that and to stay ahead of everybody. So whether it’s fantastic dining or a West End show experience; whether it’s excursions; whether it’s kids’ activities; there’s always something new coming out from the industry and that reflects in the demand we’re seeing,” he said about new developments.
“The trend we’re seeing is choice…There really is a cruise for everyone. That diversity of cruise holiday you can choose from really has become significant,” he emphasised.
Cruising’s focus on destinations
“The focus on destination is important—you get to see a number of destinations in one holiday. That’s coming into sharper focus,” said Mr Harmer when I asked about developing trends.
“Places like the Baltic and the Norwegian fjords are starting to grow, in terms of demand from the UK. We love heading out to Asia, because there are some great destinations in Asia that we can choose from, and Australia and South America,” he explained.
“About half of all British cruisers start their holidays from a UK port. We’re seeing huge growth in the number of ships based in the UK, which has increased choice markedly,” he said as we discussed the Port of Tyne as a calling point for cruise ships.
“The great thing about a UK port, and starting a holiday there, is that you can fill your car with as much luggage as you wish and drive to the port. There are none of the restrictions you’d get with an airline,” he added.
Cruise ships call into more than 20 ports around the UK and Republic of Ireland.
Starting from a UK port doesn’t necessarily mean staying within the waters around the British Isles.
“Because there’s growing popularity, there’s lots of choice of different types of ship. It’s easy to get to some of the northern European cities—including Hamburg, Amsterdam and Bruges—and down to the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands. If you fancy a longer voyage you can ever head over to North America from a UK port,” said Mr Harmer as our interview concluded.
Destinations, in fact, are the main reason why people choose cruise holidays. On a typical 14-night cruise it’s common for guests to visit as many as 10 different places. The geographical focus is down to the traveller.