When people find out that I work in the travel industry one of the questions that I invariably get asked is ‘What’s popular this year?’ When I always reply ‘Spain’, they seem visibly disappointed as if they had expected me to cite someplace far more exotic like Mexico or Mozambique! The reality is that most people don’t like to move too far outside their comfort zone and so the hardy annuals such as Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Greece and Turkey are likely to remain in the top 10 for the foreseeable future.
Of course, people choose destinations such as these for a wide variety of reasons. For some, it may be their relatively proximity in terms of flying time to get there; for others, it may be the relative familiarity of the destinations themselves, Others may flock to these destinations in their droves because of the guarantee of sunshine, the beautiful beaches, relatively cheap cost of living and sense of security they find there whilst others still choose these destinations for their culture, history, architecture or gastronomy. Spain continues to sit at Number 1 on the list because it ticks all those boxes and then some.
You will find more beautiful beaches outside of these destinations and even more spectacular scenery but it is the combination of all those other factors that enables countries like Spain to see off all comer’s year after year. Things are beginning to change though slowly but surely and one of the biggest new trends in international travel is the inexorable rise of cruising as a travel product. A lot of people still have outdated perceptions of what cruising is all about and the type of clientele it tends to attract. The reality is that there are as many kinds of cruise product (and experience) out there as there are hotel products and hotel experiences. Everyone understands that within the whole hotel ecosystem, there is a huge difference between the price you’ll pay and the experience you’ll get, depending on whether you stay in a Travelodge or a Ritz Carlton. In between, consumers have a choice at every price point and there is always a hotel brand to suit each consumers budget — whether they want Holiday Inn, Marriott, Howard Johnson or Sheraton, Shangri La or Mandarin, Four Seasons or Relaix & Chateau.
And so, it is with cruising. Just consider the following brands which are available for purchase within the Irish market — still in its infancy in cruising terms: Costa Cruises, Thomson Cruises, MSC Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Azamara, Holland America, NCL, Seabourn and Silversea. Every taste, whim, preference and budget from three star to six star is catered for — each offering different levels of comfort, cuisine and best of all — stunning itineraries to the far flung corners of the world. Silversea, for example, sail into more than 800 ports around the world. That’s almost four times as many as the number of airports served by one of the world’s largest airlines, Turkish Airlines.
The Irish cruise market is dominated by two cruise brands — Royal Caribbean and MSC Cruises — both of which attract some 15,000 holidaymakers each year. In 2016, over 41% of all bookings with Royal Caribbean were ‘new to cruise’ showing how quickly consumers are beginning to discover the value for money that cruises represent and the amazing service that they get to experience when they step on board. The facilities on the larger Oasis-class ships leaves nothing to the imagination, boasting, as they do climbing walls, flow-riders (surfing), water parks, comedy and jazz clubs, tens of specialty restaurants and nightly entertainment that wouldn’t look out of place on a Broadway or West End stage.
Of those people who have cruise before with Royal, more than 60% had cruise with them three or more times, again illustrating the fact that once bitten by the cruising bug, there is little or no cure!