CLIA’s 2011 US Cruise Market Profile Study – Other Cruise News: The Cruise West Fleet Finds New Homes – A Brief History of Great Lakes Cruising

by Kevin Griffin

Today, we look the latest Cruise Market Profile Study from the US-based Cruise Lines International Association, which is quite positive in view of other factors bearing on the industry today. More ships from the former Cruise West fleet find homes, with three going to American Safari Cruises and its InnerSea Discoveries operation and the largest of the US-flag ships going to Travel Dynamics International of New York. As Travel Dynamics intend to use this ship in the Great Lakes, we also have a brief look at the history of Great Lakes cruising.


CLIA’s 2011 US Cruise Market Profile Study Reports Positive Consumer Attitudes

In the first new market study since Christine Duffy took on the presidency of the Cruise Lines International Association, she was able to present an upbeat and positive report, especially in view of other factors bearing on the industry today. According to its latest consumer survey, Americans are not only increasingly aware of cruising but they are strongly interested in either a repeat cruise or trying one for the first time.

Of a US population of 304 million, almost a quarter, or 73 million Americans, have cruised and 36 million, from a core target market of 133 million who are 25 or older with a household income of $40,000 or more, or more than a quarter, report that they are likely to book a cruise in the next three years.

Consistent with previous studies, the “2011 Cruise Market Profile Study,” conducted by TNS Global, found that a significant majority of consumers – 94% – rate cruising as a satisfying holiday experience. The 45% who rate a cruise as “extremely satisfying” make cruising a satisfaction leader among holiday choices.

The study surveyed over 1,300 past cruisers and non-cruisers to determine holiday preferences and attitudes, plans for future holidays, spending patterns and other topics, to draw comparisons among numerous types of holidays, including cruises.

“Based on analysis of responses to the Cruise Market Profile Study, the cruise industry can be optimistic about its continued growth and success,” said Christine Duffy.

“CLIA member lines have had an average annual passenger growth rate of more than 7% since 1980. In 2010, capacity increased by 8% yet CLIA member line ships continued to operate at 103% occupancy. The reasons for this success, I think, are reflected in what consumers are telling us about their attitudes toward vacationing and cruising in particular. In a nutshell, the cruise industry continues to innovate and deliver on the cruise product promise, with the result that millions of Americans are intending to take a cruise in the near future.”

What’s more, growth in non-US markets is even higher. Among the highlights of the 2011 US Cruise Market Profile, the following became clear as we look at cruising intentions and attitudes.

In responding to the survey, 36 million Americans 25 years of age and over with $40,000 or more income said they intended to book a cruise in the next three years, up from 33 million in 2008 and 31 million in 2006. Some 37% of past cruisers expressed interest in a cruise in the next three years and 50% of non-cruisers expressed an interest in booking their first cruise within three years.

Cruise satisfaction remains high, driving repeat business. Overall satisfaction rates are 94% and, compared to other holidays, cruises are at the top in the “extreme satisfaction” rating, at 45%. People view all categories of holiday as expensive but most people view cruising as superior value.

At 17%, nearly twice as many equate cruising with very high value compared to land-based holidays, which scored just 9%. Among past cruisers, the gap swells to 21% compared to just 8% for land holidays.

Awareness of cruising is also high and growing. Some 32% of the study’s sample cited increased awareness of cruising in the past year or two – four times as many as the 8% who expressed decreased awareness.

Of respondents who provided information on their last cruise, 60% had cruised previously and 40% claimed their last cruise was their first cruise, indicating that the industry continues to attract new guests.

The total sample (cruisers and non-cruisers) ranked the following as much better or somewhat better for cruises compared to other holiday categories: the chance to visit multiple destinations, at 56%; fine dining, at 51%; being pampered, at 44%; and just getting away from it all, at 44%

By numbers, US consumers presently prefer to cruise to the Caribbean, Alaska, the Bahamas, Hawaii and Bermuda, in that order, before the Mediterranean and Greek Isles and Europe, while the Panama Canal, Canada and New England and Mexico bring up the rear.

The core target market for cruising (adults 25 plus with household incomes of $40,000 and more) represents 44% of the US population. Overall, at 24%, almost one in four of the total US population has cruised before and 11% in the past three years (up from 20% having cruised and 10% in the past three years in 2008).

The general profile of the 2011 cruiser is upmarket, with a median household income of $97,000, with a median age of 48, and well educated, with fully 76% being college graduates.

Cruise customer demographics and preferences vary by cruise line and market segment, but cruisers typically travel in pairs, with 80% travelling with a spouse. About 33% travel with children, 19% with friends, and 18% with other family members. At 38%, two in five say they have taken a cruise as part of a group or event, with group travel in the lead at 18% followed by honeymoons at 11% and themed events at 10%.

Those expressing a definite or probable interest in taking a cruise in the next three years show an average desired length of cruise of 7 1/2 days. About 40% of those intending to take a first cruise indicated a 3-5 day choice of cruise length, compared to past cruisers at 16%.

At 82%, over four out of five cruisers typically agree that a cruise holiday provides a good way to sample destinations that they may wish to visit again. Key influences in selecting a cruise include: destination, at 35%; overall experience, at 19%; ship, at 12%; cost, at 23%; and facilities such as spa, gym, children facilities, etc, at 11%. Does this mean that almost 90% don’t care about a spa or gym?

When asked about most appealing onboard atmospheres on a cruise, past cruisers and non-cruisers, respectively, indicated their preferences as follows: casually elegant, 67% for cruisers and 52% for non-cruisers; casual, 63% for cruisers and 66% for non-cruisers’ country club, 25% for cruisers and 21% for non-cruisers; laid-back, at 44% for cruisers and 75% for non-cruisers; and formal, 18% for cruisers, or half more than non-cruisers, at 12%.

“While cruising receives generally high marks from all consumers, even those who have never cruised before, it is significant that past cruisers consistently have even higher opinions of their cruise holiday experience in terms of benefits, price perceptions, value, and other factors than those who have never cruised before,” Duffy observed.

“This explains why cruising has such guest loyalty and high repeat business; once someone has cruised, the value, variety, and enjoyment is obvious and irresistible.” In other words, once you’re converted you’re hooked.


The Cruise West Fleet Finds New Homes

Even before Cruise West closed its doors in September 2010, its largest ship, and the only one not to fly the US flag, the 114-berth Spirit of Oceanus, was sold to Danish investors known as TN Cruise K/S Denmark. Renamed Sea Spirit, she is now managed by International Shipping Partners of Miami, and chartered out to other operators. TUI-owned Quark expeditions used her for the 2010-11 Antarctic season and she will return to them in 2011-12.

In the meantime, like fleet mates Sea Discoverer and Sea Voyager, she has been used as an accommodation ship this summer, in her case by Siemens PLC to accommodate workers at a wind farm off Barrow-in-Furness in the UK. The Sea Voyager has been chartered for use in building a new port at Deception Bay in the Canadian Arctic and may be sent to Europe to replace the Sea Spirit in the autumn.

The first to follow the Spirit of Oceanus out of the Cruise West fleet were two of the smaller ships that were controlled by GE Capital. The 78-berth Spirit of Columbia and Spirit of Alaska went to Alaskan Dream Cruises, a new company that had been formed by day cruise operator Allen Marine Tours of Sitka.

Renamed Admiralty Dream and Baranof Dream, they began service this spring, joining the previously acquired 40-berth Alaskan Dream, which had previously traded as the Executive Explorer.

Not long thereafter a company called West-Hardwick Marine Inc came onto the scene. Formed in July 2010 by a West sister and John Hardwick of Sitka, it took over mortgages on three ships, the 84-berth Spirit of Discovery, 102-berth Spirit of Endeavour and 99-berth Spirit of ’98. All three vessels have now been allocated to American Safari Cruises, with Spirit of Endeavour to become the Safari Endeavour and Spirit of 98 the Safari Legacy.

The third, Spirit of Discovery, will have her capacity reduced to 76 passengers as she is assigned to the green-hulled fleet of American Safari’s InnerSea Discoveries operation as the Wilderness Explorer.

There, she will join the 60-berth Wilderness Adventurer, which is also owned by West-Hardwick Marine, and the 76-berth Wilderness Discoverer. West-Hardwick Marine is reported to be looking to expand its inventory of US-flagged ships.

Finally, earlier this month it was announced that Travel Dynamics International of New York had acquired the 138-berth GE Capital-controlled Spirit of Yorktown and will rename her Yorktown for a program of Great Lakes and US coastal cruises to begin in May 2012.The last CE Capital-controlled ship, the 108-berth spirit of Glacier Bay, is still seeking a buyer.

A Brief History of Great Lakes Cruising

As Travel Dynamics intends to use the Yorktown to re-open its Great Lakes cruising operation, last operated by the Clelia II in 2010, it may be a good time to have a brief look at how cruising developed in the Great Lakes.

Most people don’t realize that the five Great Lakes – Ontario, Erie, Huron, Michigan and Superior – are where the seven-day cruise originated. This dates to 1894-1895, when the Northern Steamship Company introduced the North West and North Land, with their motto “In all the World, no trip like this.”

Among the North Land‘s first passengers was one Samuel L Clemens, better known to most as Mark Twain. Part of the Great Northern Railway system, these ships were described as the “largest, most complete and luxuriously equipped passenger boats in the world.” The return voyage from Buffalo to Duluth or Chicago took seven days, and one of the most popular stops was at Mackinac Island, where automobiles are still not allowed to this day.

Many more cruise ships followed, on both sides of the border, carrying happy crowds for many decades, with cruise directors, live bands and even radio broadcasts from on board. This advertisement is from 1916. The better-known ships included Great Lakes Transit’s Juniata, Octorora and Tionesta and Georgian Bay Line’s North American, South American and Alabama, and, on the Canadian side, Canada Steamship Lines’ Hamonic, Huronic and Noronic and Canadian Pacific’s Assiniboia, Keewatin and Manitoba. These ships were all between 300 and 400 feet in length, 3,000 to 7,000 tons, and carried between 280 and 500 passengers each.

Overnight lines also got into cruising when the Detroit & Cleveland Navigation Company began a Detroit to Chicago service via Mackinac Island in 1924, with the 500-berth Eastern States and Western States. This service became the company’s “Cruise Division.” In 1933, the Cleveland & Buffalo Transit Company, which had been offering end-of-season cruises from 1921 with its four-funnelled 1,500-passenger 6,381-ton Seeandbee, began offering seven-day Great Lakes cruises all summer long.

Unlike the traditional cruise ships, these were big side-wheel paddle steamers, the largest in the world, and they continued cruising until 1950, when D&C, deprived of its overnight business by the advent of the superhighway, closed down. Their most interesting amenity was suites with private balconies, many decades before they were introduced into modern-day cruise ships.

Most of the traditional ships, in typical lakes fashion, had their engines aft, presaging modern-day cruise ship design. These ships carried on for several years, until Canadian Pacific’s Assiniboia and Keewatin were withdrawn in 1965, and the Georgian Bay Line’s South American in 1967, victims of obsolescence and new fire regulations. The Keewatin is now a museum ship near Saugatuck, Michigan, while the 100-passenger Norgoma, which sailed between Georgian Bay and Sault Ste Marie for the Owen Sound Transportation Company, is at Sault Ste Marie, Ont.

Overseas ships have also cruised the Great Lakes. From 1959, when the St Lawrence Seaway opened, to 1963, the Oranje Line offered cruises on three passenger/cargo ships carrying 60 to 115 passengers each between Montreal and Chicago while on their voyages to and from Europe.
In 1959, Sun Line operated the first Stella Maris into the Great Lakes on a number of cruises from Montreal to Toronto, Hamilton and Rochester. Midwest Cruises of Indianapolis offered two seasons of Great Lakes cruises between Montreal and Chicago with the 233-berth Stella Maris II in 1974 and the 168-berth Discoverer in 1975, but then closed down.

More recently the lakes have seen the 90-berth French-flag Le Levant, built in 1998, and the 96-berth German-owned Orion, which Travel Dynamics engaged for the trade in 2004.

Between 1997 and 2011, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ 420-berth 14,903-ton Columbus became the largest ship to cruise the lakes, but she will leave the fleet in 2012. Most recently, in 2009 and 2010, Travel Dynamics operated the Clelia II, soon to be replaced by the Yorktown. With thirteen Great Lakes cruises in 2012, the Yorktown will more than double the capacity being offered this year by the much larger Columbus, which is doing only two Great Lakes cruises in her farewell season.

(Kevin Griffin is managing director of specialist cruise agency The Cruise People Ltd in London, England. For further information concerning cruises mentioned in this article readers can visit his blog)

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