Cruising a real luxury

The high end of the cruise market is a growing niche, according to top professionals.

Speaking at the Cruise Shipping Miami conference, Barbara Muckermann of MSC noted that millionaires now number 2.4 million worldwide.

This translates as 0.5 per cent of the world’s population, and these people control $69.2 trillion, which is a third of the world’s total assets.

Some 40 per cent live in the United States, 10 per cent in Japan and 3 per cent in China, she noted, pointing out that while prior to the recession there was a tendency toward heedless spending, following the downturn consumers were more mindful of how they spent.

Understated luxury, authenticity and top-grade materials are now sought.

Crucially for the industry – which impacts the Cayman Islands – is that the perception of luxury has gone from owning ‘icons’ to experiencing life. Travel, she said, is seen as the ultimate experience.

Butler service added

In terms of upscale cruising, there has been an increase in guest capacity, more dining options and even butler service.

New luxury cruising is not just about spacious cabins, superior service, celebrity branding or exclusivity but must also increasingly provide different products for different consumers and offer experience and transformation to customers, she said.

Kenneth Watson, chief operating officer of Silversea Expeditions, said the company sells expedition videos to cruisers and non-cruisers alike.

“Unique, interesting and exotic destinations are needed to be successful… focus should be on difficult-to-travel-to destinations,” he said, adding that guests want interactive and authentic shore excursions and an enriching experience.

Richard Meadows of Holland America said there are 11 million households with over $1 million net worth and that estimated cruise holidays by this sector was 136,000 in 2009.This was a market penetration of 1.2 per cent, he said.

First-time luxury cruisers were younger than ever and valued the experience, he said, and the abundance of consumers with the means and intention to travel far exceeded current luxury cruise capacity.

This meant that the market existed and needed to be taken seriously.

Tastes and trends

At the conference, tastes and trends of the industry were also discussed by delegates. Antonius Heuer from Fidelio Cruise said that from the liners’ point of view, there were several trends to note.

They include making ships paperless, keeping passengers informed, freedom of choice, passenger self-booking and optimising food production on board.

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo of Celebrity added that clear identity and brand vision are critical to differentiate companies.

Since late 2010, retail spending has been rising across all cruise lines, Mike Flesch of Starboard Cruise Services said in a speech.

It still lags behind the highs of 2007, but higher-value categories such as jewellery, watches and apparel are performing well, particularly in the Caribbean, where liquor, tobacco and promotional items are also popular.

The exhibition was held from 14-17 March at the Miami Beach Convention Center.