There are close to 20 million travellers on the move annually that this column has barely mentioned once in 22 years (if you count the printed version before Traveller’s Check went online). It’s one of the fastest-growing sectors of the international tourism business and it does enough trade each year to keep two Qantases busy.
Let’s be frank: the reason it has never got a guernsey here is that I’ve never given more than a minute’s thought to the idea of getting involved. But it’s one of the really appealing ways of travelling because it is designed for people who are single-mindedly out for a good time.
It’s also never been an Australian priority; it’s always been something most had to travel somewhere else to enjoy. But cruising the high seas in large sea-going hotels is infiltrating the Australian consciousness at last.
The world’s biggest cruise line, Carnival, is very much an American creation and doesn’t have to stray far from the Caribbean and central America to soak up all the burgeoning demand for cruising at home.
But others, such as Royal Caribbean (the No.2 global cruise line), have started basing ships Down under for at least part of the year.
One statistic jumps out at me: for the past two decades, cruising’s annual growth rate has averaged 7.7%. That’s only slightly behind the Chinese economy and means cruising has been far less impervious to all the shocks that have kept travellers at home periodically since the mid-1990s: recessions, terrorism, disease.
In 2012, the industry reckons it will top 20.3 million passengers who’ll spend around $30 billion on the product – around $1500 per cruise on average – aboard a global fleet of 256 liners.
On top of that, passengers now pay more than $200 per person on average on “cruise revenue” – the seagoing equivalent of ancillary revenue now all the rage among airlines.
Surprisingly, cruising is something being booked further and further ahead by consumers, while the air travel trend is going in the opposite direction. The average booking window for cruising was around 5.8 months in 2011, up from 4.5 months in 2009.
Compare that to air travel where the average advance purchase period is less than a month for domestic trips and only slightly longer for international journeys.
But it’s still a big purchase when a cruise usually sets you back thousands. It’s also a lottery if it’s a product you don’t understand and may not enjoy. So Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises have come up the idea of a one-night cruise sample out of Sydney at the end of this year.
“Less than three per cent of the (Australian) population went cruising last year and they know what’s behind the gleaming white paint of a cruise ship’s hull,” goes the spiel from Royal Caribbean’s Australian commercial manager Adam Armstrong. “But for the majority of Australians who see more and more cruise ships arrive in harbours around the country, they remain a huge curiosity.”
Accoding to Armstrong, the sample cuises are “convenient for time-poor guests”.
“How many holidays can you get for $345 that include all of your meals, accommodation, entertainment and travel?” he asks.
There will be two ships operating separate overnight cruises. Voyager of the Seas’ one-night sampler cruise starts from $345 per person, and departs Sydney on Friday, November 23. Celebrity Solstice’s one-night sampler cruise departs Sydney on Sunday, December 9, with fares starting from $355 per person
Like airlinequality.com, there are specific consumer feedback forums such as cruisecritic.com where you can go to read up on the cruises and cruise companies that are available – an increasing number in Asia and Australasia, as well as Europe and the Caribbean.
Are you a cruise virgin? Is it something you’re interested in, but have never tried? Are you already a cruise fan? What are the best things that would appeal to those who have never tried it?