Confident in the future of Australia as an important and still-emerging cruise market, some major cruise lines will soon add capacity Down Under, and one will deploy a ship there year-round.
In October 2012, Carnival Cruise Lines will homeport its 2,124-passenger Carnival Spirit in Sydney, for year-round sailings to New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.
The Spirit, offering eight- to 13-day cruises, will be the largest vessel operating from Sydney.
Lynn Torrent, Carnival’s senior vice president of sales, said the line’s entry into Australia is designed to “introduce a contemporary product that will appeal to a broad demographic: new and experienced cruisers who are seeking fun, active and memorable vacations.”
Torrent said there exists a large, untapped market for cruises homeported in Australia, and Carnival’s 2012 program provides an opportunity for the line to expand beyond its traditional source markets.
Other lines operate only seasonally, she said, so the Carnival Spirit deployment will provide “great new selling opportunities for the Australian travel trade.”
Carnival doesn’t yet have specific figures for passenger sourcing, and while Torrent said she anticipates that the target audience will be primarily Australians, she added, “We do expect that some Americans will want to experience this product.”
The Australia market has seen noteworthy growth in the last few years. According to the most recent data available from Cruise Down Under, the marketing organization representing the country’s cruise industry, the number of ships visiting the destination in 2009 increased by nearly 12% over the previous year.
Total passenger days in the country’s ports rose from about 643,000 in 2008 to 863,000 in 2009. Passenger capacity also grew during that time frame, from 38,000 to 42,000.
Daryl Hudson, regional general manager of Tourism Australia, said he was not surprised by the growth figures.
“Australia serves as a great base for cruise ships given its extensive coastline,” he said, noting that every Australian state has at least one port. Thirty-four cruise ships visited Australia in 2009-10, Hudson said, and 10 of the vessels were based at one of the country’s ports for at least some portion of the season.
The historical leader in the region has been P&O Cruises Australia, which is owned by Carnival Corp.
A Carnival Corp. division, Carnival Australia, represents four brands in the local market: P&O Cruises Australia, P&O Cruises (U.K.) World Cruising, Cunard and Princess Cruises.
Carnival Australia said that in the last five years, operations have expanded from one ship sailing from Sydney to six vessels sailing year-round from Sydney, Melbourne, Fremantle, Newcastle and Auckland under the P&O Australia and Princess brands.
Other lines are adding more capacity to the market.
Royal Caribbean International will offer the most capacity in Australia during the 2012-13 season, having recently committed some 7,200 berths to the region. The 3,100-passenger Voyager of the Seas will join the 2,100-passenger Radiance of the Seas and the 2,000-passenger Rhapsody of the Seas, both of which are deployed there for the 2011-12 season.
Vicki Freed, the line’s senior vice president for sales and trade support, said cruising is becoming increasingly popular in Australia. The market penetration, she said, is about 2.5%, in a population of 20 million.
“The majority of our business will be sourced from Australia,” Freed said. “Australia is on a lot of people’s bucket lists, but when they see how long the flight is [from the U.S.], it moves down the list.”
The Australia market, she added, “is like the U.K. was 10 years ago, and now you have ships based out of the U.K.”
Another Carnival Corp. brand, Holland America Line, is adding capacity. The Volendam and Zaandam, each carrying 1,432 passengers, will be deployed in Australia and New Zealand for the 2011-12 season, marking the first time the line will have two ships sailing simultaneously in the region.
In 2012-13 the 1,926-passenger Oosterdam will replace the Zaandam and be the first Vista-class ship to be homeported out of Sydney. The swap will boost HAL’s capacity in the region by almost 25%.
HAL will open a sales office in Sydney on Sept. 1, located in the offices of Carnival Australia. Director of Sales Tony Archbold will oversee the business development managers, business development representatives and inside sales support for HAL and Seabourn.
“The Australian cruise market continues to grow at a tremendous pace, and opening a dedicated office was a natural step that demonstrates our long-term commitment to this market,” said Richard Meadows, executive vice president for marketing, sales and guest programs.
“Holland America Line is receiving fantastic support from Australian travel sellers,” he added.