Princess looks forward to an 'exotic' 2003

rincess Cruises' new Tahiti sailings on two former Renaissance ships have generated a lot of interest. Cruise editor Rebecca Tobin asked Princess' president Phil Kleweno where the line is headed.

Travel Weekly:How does the new Tahiti product fit into the Princess fleet in terms of itineraries and ship design?

Kleweno: The two smaller ships [688 passengers each] are a perfect addition to the Princess fleet because they'll enable us to offer more destination opportunities for our passengers, which is one of the cornerstones of the Princess experience. We've designed the industry's only 10-day [Tahiti] itinerary.

The ships also will fit well with the rest of our fleet's "Personal Choice" theme, albeit on a smaller scale. Plus, we know many of our past passengers like the small-ship cruise experience.

TW:Why was the decision to send one of those Renaissance ships to Alaska?

Kleweno: We've [seen] a very strong interest in [Alaska] cruises from San Francisco. It was driven by trying to build that market in San Francisco.

TW:Princess ships will not be sailing in the Caribbean during summer 2003. Why not?

Kleweno: Because of the high demand for our Grand Princess Mediterranean cruises, we made the decision to additionally deploy its sister ship, Golden Princess, there next summer. That leaves us without a presence in the Caribbean.

But we'll be back in the summer Caribbean market when the new ships we're building are delivered.

TW:You've doubled your Med capacity for 2003, but at least one of your competitors has said that Europe may not "bounce back" as quickly as predicted. Your thoughts?

Kleweno: We are optimistic about having a very strong Mediterranean season. We did have a strong Mediterranean season this year, which this time last year people would have not anticipated.

TW:What else is new for 2003?

Kleweno: We're trying to focus on being a destination-oriented line. In 2003, we will have 70 unique itineraries, and we're adding Antarctica.

We have maiden calls in four cities. We're introducing Hawaii roundtrip out of Los Angeles. We're going back through the Suez Canal this year.

Specifically, in terms of our exotics, we're up 20% in 2003, and in the Mediterranean, we've doubled our capacity.

TW:Princess is known, as you said, as a "destination-oriented" company. That said, are you concerned that cruise itineraries could be seriously disrupted by a U.S.-Iraq conflict?

Kleweno: We deployed our ships earlier this year in a way that we felt met the demands of our passengers. We have no plans to change our current deployment.

That's not to say we wouldn't reevaluate that decision based on world events. We certainly are watching the situation.

TW:How late can you reposition a ship?

Kleweno: Ideally, you wouldn't want it to be later than 18 months. We've done things as short as three and four months, which is certainly not ideal.

But we did redeploy the Sea Princess last September for new sailings in Mexico in January. We just announced the Tahitian Princess with a first sailing on Dec. 24.

TW:Why did you choose to send a ship to Antarctica?

Kleweno: As we were looking at developing the fleet and looking at discovery, it seemed like it was time to add the seventh continent.

[The cruise] is quite exotic, going from the southern tip of Africa, and it stops at some of the south Atlantic Ocean islands.

TW:How is a deployment decision like that made?

Kleweno: [We get] travel agent input or passenger input, or we look at competitors. Then we have a market planning group that creates the different deployments.

It is a strategic and core part of our business that gets lots of attention. We start planning several years in advance. It's not as though we say, oh, the brochure's due next month.

TW:Do you often send new ships to newer destinations, or do you tend to use them on time-tested routes to spice things up?

Kleweno: Both. The last three ships we introduced have been Grand class, and those cannot traverse the Panama Canal.

The first one that can, the Coral Princess, will be deployed there. We put the [new] Star Princess in Mexico, which is a return to our roots.

But then we're taking the Star the next winter to the South Pacific and Australia and New Zealand.

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