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Tenerife, the beautiful island of eternal spring more than just a winter escape

  • Written by Teijo Niemelä

Known as “La Isla Bonita”, the Beautiful Island, the alluring Tenerife is rapidly becoming a main cruise port of Europe. Its recent two major cruise facility developments have made the entire Canary archipelago a focal point of cruising, transforming it into an undisputed top year-round destination.

A few years ago, in response to the increasing number of winter calls, the port authority had opened a second, 1,000m2 cruise terminal in Santa Cruz de Tenerife; almost immediately after that, it started building another new, 8,473m2 facility, which was opened in September 2016 to join the existing two terminals. One of the most attractive features of Tenerife is that it has a modern cruise terminal right next to the city centre.

Today, with three world-class facilities, Tenerife has become Europe’s ultimate year-round cruise port. Santa Cruz is now the third largest cruise port in Spain, after Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca in terms of ship calls and passenger throughputs. In 2016 it received 524 calls and 884,179 passengers; this year, 2017, its passenger number will surpass 910,00, well on its way to join the “one-million-annual-cruise-passenger league”.

Major brands like MSC Cruises has a homeport operation from here; the island receives regular calls by such other cruise lines as Costa, Thomson, Fred. Olsen, and Hapag Lloyd. It recently added Pullmantur to its list of clients. The Spanish cruise brand is selling a Spanish destination to its mainly Spanish customers; this is probably the most powerful stamp of approval and demonstrates the magnetic attraction of Tenerife. Major liners like Britannia, Anthem of the Seas, Norwegian Epic, among others, have all been among its callers recently.

As a perfect winter escape, Tenerife has long been a favourite among European holidaymakers of all ages. But its cruise ambition has gone beyond this source market. As a key member of MedCruise, the Canary Islands as a whole is benefiting from the association’s unrelenting marketing drives in Asia and North America. Via Madrid, it has 14 daily air links – and many more via other European cities - with North America, thus accessing the biggest cruise market. Currently the regional government of Tenerife is working hard to introduce direct flights to and from the USA. Canary Islands can therefore source passengers from all three major source markets – Europe, North America and Asia year round.

As it becomes one of the most forward looking cruise destinations in the world, the port authority of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is working tirelessly in attracting cruise traffics, as well as promoting and developing the other five cruise ports in the Canary Islands chain under its management. Its facility upgrades and development are unrelenting. This year, Santa Cruz de Tenerife will be among the first cruise ports in the world to introduce LNG bunkering services. By 2019, the berthing line in Santa Cruz de la Palma will be lengthened to accommodate larger ships. Plans are being drawn to develop the port of La Estaca, on El Hierro, into a special expedition port on account of the island’s outstanding features and its UNESCO Geopark status.

Tenerife is often a port of call for many transatlantic voyages. “As we are situated in the middle of the Atlantic,” Airam Diaz, Commercial Manager of Tenerife Port Authority, told us, “we are easily connected with North America East Coast, the Caribbean, and Brazil with Europe for positioning calls. In addition, we are the gateway to circumnavigate Africa from Europe.” The port of San Sebastian on the island of La Gomera was the last port of call made by Christopher Columbus before crossing the ocean towards the Americas.

On the whole, the temperate Canary Islands archipelago of “Eternal Spring” – with year-round temperatures fluctuating between 16oC and 21oC – not only attracts holidaymakers, but also the attention of the international scientific community, which has based one of its most important astrophysics observatories of the Northern Hemisphere here because of its unique climatic pattern, clean air, and clear sky.

Among its many attractions is the “silbo gomero” of La Gomera Island, the whistling language communicating though ravines; a most touching and enchanting remnants of human culture found nowhere else. Next to the island of El Hierro, a newborn volcano has risen from beneath the waves, populated by an ancient species of lizards, closely related to dinosaurs. The UNESCO World Heritage listed volcano mountain of El Teide on the island of Tenerife is Spain’s highest peak, commanding a spectacular view over the Canary Islands.

Tenerife, and its sister islands, is more than just a winter escape; it is a perfect year round cruise destination.

Hong Kong is Asia's world city

  • Written by Teijo Niemelä

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By John Roberts

Hong Kong is Asia's world city. It's also on pace to become the city that serves as the most important cruise hub in growing the industry. That's what a report from the Hong Kong Tourism Board anticipates.

Results from two studies on the Asian cruise market were revealed at a luncheon event March 16 at Cruise Shipping Miami. Anthony Lau, executive director of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, summarized the findings from the "Asia Cruise Potential and Passenger Behaviour Study" and the "Asia Cruise Port Development Study."

The passenger behavior study looks at the potential market for cruisers in Greater China, which is the largest source of cruisers in Asia and eight-largest in the world. Greater China is home to a potential 83 million cruise passengers throughout seven source markets (large regions of China) that the study covered.

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This means that the total of those people who fit the demographic of likely cruisers in the Greater China market is already nearly four times the number of cruise passengers worldwide (22 million in 2014). The study also shows that the makeup of the typical cruiser from China is likely to be younger and more family oriented than those from traditional source markets like Europe and the United States. About 69 percent of respondents who were members of families with children younger than 16 said they planned to cruise. Also, about 51 percent of respondents between 20 and 29 said they want to cruise.

"Chinese see a cruise trip as a high-quality, hassle-free way to enjoy time with family," Lau said.

He also pointed out that that the average Chinese cruiser considers Wi-Fi connectivity important, strives to try new foods and finds a six- or seven-day sailing the ideal length.

Over the next 10-plus years, "Asia is expected to be a key growth driver in cruising," Lau said.

A Cruise Line International Association study released March 17 on Asia cruise trends backs this up. Cruise lines had nearly 1.4 million Asian passengers onboard in 2014, representing a 34 percent jump since 2012, the CLIA report shows.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board's port development study focuses on the work being done on ports in Hong Kong and neighboring areas. With Hong Kong as the home-port destination, the study outlines 21 ports within six to seven cruise days that have in place plans to upgrade existing cruise infrastructure – like berths and port facilities – as and expand tourism offerings for visitors once they come ashore. The study identifies Sanya, Xiamen, Zhoushan, Qingdao and Yantai in China and Keelung, Hualien, Kaohsiung, Anping, Taiching, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu in Taiwan. It also includes Miyakojima and Takamatsu in Japan; Mokpo and Yeosu in South Korea; Hon La, Vietnam; and Manila, Boracay and Puerto Princesa in the Philippines.

Half of these ports will be able to serve ships of at least 100,000 gross tons within five years, the study says.

"Hong Kong, being Asia's cruise hub at the heart of Asia, is the perfect location to tap into the growing cruise potential in the region," Lau said. The first-of-their kind studies were conducted by the School of Hotel and Tourism Management of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Costa Rica has sights set on boosting cruise business

  • Written by Teijo Niemelä

The tiny nation of Costa Rica has an essential message for you. The glorious tourist destination in Central America, located in an ideal spot touching both the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean, has rolled out the welcome mat for visitors with its new tourism marketing campaign.

“Essential Costa Rica” beckons those who haven’t already discovered this ecological wonderland to consider coming for a vacation. And the cruise industry is poised to play a big part in these plans.

I've been to Costa Rica on a port stop in Limon during a cruise and quickly fell in love during my visit to the Caribbean side of the country. The day ashore ranks as one of my greatest travel experiences to date. I zip-lined, swam at a beach, toured a banana plantation, savored local beers, got my fill of the freshest and most delicious fruits you’ll ever find at a roadside fruit stand, mingled with howler monkeys and held a sloth.

I crave a return to the home of “pura vida,” or the pure life. I need to stay longer and visit with more people who exude vibrancy and smiles that make you feel like you’ve found a new home.

“Costa Rica has a lot to offer,” said Allan Hidalgo Campos, chief executive of the port of Limon, which sees two to three ships call each day during the cruise season, which runs October through May. “We are ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world.”

It’s easy to see why. The jungles and waters provide the backdrop of one of the most ecologically diverse places in the world. The nation’s two coasts, jungle and mountains create a landscape for a multitude of microclimates, providing habitat for more than 500,000 plant and animal species. Costa Rica works to protect what it has, too. More than a quarter of the territory is under some kind of protected status.

Adventure travelers find it ideal. You can zip above the rain forest canopy, ride white-water rapids, hike volcanoes, soak in hot springs and dive into a wide range of watersports, such as snorkeling and diving amid the colorful reef systems, which are home to thousands of marine species.

But the cruise business has been waning. The port of Limon expects 64 cruise ship calls this season, down from a robust 127 calls in the 2008-09 season. A range of factors has caused this according to tourism officials. Strike activity at the port on the Caribbean side has been cited as a reason as well as fuel prices and weather.

Total calls for all of the nation’s cruise ports, Limon and Puntarenas and Caldera on the Pacific side is expected to tally about 190, down from 345 just two years ago.

At the port of Limon, officials are making a push to develop a terminal exclusively for cruise ships. The industrialized dock area is somewhat uninviting to cruise ship passengers and serves both cruise vessels and cargo ships. Dutch company APM Terminals is in charge of a project to develop a container terminal in Limon that would allow the cruise facility to be developed to cater to tourists who get off at the dock. The APM Terminals Moin cargo facility is expected to begin service in 2016.

According to the master plan for the port of Limon, the port would be dedicated solely to cruise ships. Restaurants, duty free shops and arts and crafts stores would be added. The port continues to work to generate interest in the major cruise lines to take part in the development process, and officials also are approaching entrepreneurs in Costa Rica who might want to be stakeholders in the growth of the port as a cruise destination.

“Cruise lines are very important for the promotion of Costa Rica,” said Costa Rica’s Tourism Minister Allan Flores. “With the efforts of the government and the port authorities in both the Caribbean and Pacific, we will increase the number of operations in both ports and give more opportunities to the local people who are wishing to combat poverty. We will also generate employment, which is very important in our society.

“So we are willing to have more opportunities for development, not only with regards to cruise lines but with tourism overall.”

The bottom line for me is that however you get to Costa Rica, by cruise ship or any other way, it is a remarkable country worth exploring. The greatest joy in my travels is knowing that my visit can benefit not only myself but the residents who live and work there, too.

Written by John Roberts

Royal Caribbean unveils Quantum of the Seas dining concept

  • Written by Teijo Niemelä

Royal Caribbean has set a new course with its “Dynamic Dining” concept for the Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas newbuildings.

At a special media event in New York City on Wednesday night, Royal Caribbean showed off what it calls a “new era of dining at sea.” Quantum of the Seas is set to launch this fall, with a Nov. 2 maiden voyage across the Atlantic from Southampton to its homeport Cape Liberty in Bayonne, N.J., and Anthem of the Seas will set sail in April 2015.

Some innovative onboard amenities had been known and well-publicized for months. For example, both ships will come loaded with unique activities such as a skydiving simulator, bumper cars, SeaPlex indoor active space and North Star, a London-eye type attraction that takes passengers in an enclosed capsule above the ship for 360-degree views.

Now, cruisers can also get a dining experience unlike anything they’ve seen before on a Royal Caribbean ship. Instead of a traditional main dining room with set dining times and assigned tables, passengers can choose from among 18 eating spots on Quantum and Anthem. The locations include five complimentary “main restaurants,” seven signature specialty dining options and six casual eateries.

The line also revealed an online reservation system that will become active May 15 and allow passengers to choose when and where they want to dine and book their reservations before departure.

How the line would handle its dining had served as a point of intense rumor and speculation as passengers booked on Quantum’s first cruises received cryptic responses when trying to determine whether they could book their preferred dining time in the main dining room.

Royal Caribbean finally shared its revolutionary plan. The array of smaller non-fee main restaurants marks a radical departure for the line, which has always featured main dining rooms with set dining times on its ships.

The line said the time was right to give its guests more flexibility.

“The guest experience has been the hallmark of everything we’ve done for more than 40 years,” said Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Adam Goldstein. “We’ve pushed the boundaries in everything that we’ve done. We’re known for a lot of firsts.”

Passengers on Quantum and Anthem may choose to eat at five complimentary, full-service main restaurants.

American Icon Grill offers classics like New England clam chowder, shrimp po boys, Buffalo mac and cheese, Southern buttermilk fried chicken, New Orleans gumbo and surf and turf (Maine lobster and ribeye). The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner (reservations only needed for dinner).

Chic serves creative entrees such as potato encrusted Icelandic cod, salmon strudel and boneless beef ribeye with creamed spinach and roasted corn salsa. It’s open for dinner only.

Silk offers a pan-Asian menu with cooking influenced by the flavors of India, Vietnam, China, Japan and Thailand. Open for dinner only, options include pho chicken, coconut crusted prawn, hibachi steak, curried lamb and crispy Beijing duck.

The Grande Restaurant offers formal night every night. Appetizers include duck pate and bacon roasted scallops. The elegant dining spot features main courses like Chateaubriand Wellington, chicken a l’orange and rack of lamb.

Coastal Kitchen is available to suite class cabin holders. The menu works to blend Mediterranean and California influences and offers combinations like sea bass ceviche, asparagus and leek tart, salmon steak and an array of flatbreads, with toppings such as fig and prosciutto or fennel sausage. The restaurant serves breakfast lunch and dinner (make reservations for dinner only).

Coastal Kitchen seats 128 guests. The other main restaurants can accommodate about 430.

The ships will feature four new for-fee dining options, three with celebrity chef partners, as well as traditional Royal Caribbean specialty venues.

Wonderland plays on the Louis Carroll tale of Alice and leads diners “down the rabbit hole” to where chefs twist traditional culinary concepts to create truly imaginative meals. Try foods in a full range of flavors, temperatures, textures and portion sizes. These include tempura salmon caviar, liquid lobster, smoked salmon eggs, naan bread tacos with pork belly, sashimi of red and white tuna and milk chocolate panna cotta.

Jamie’s Italian is the first cruise ship eatery for British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. The menu includes crab and avocado bruschetta, Italian spiced chicken wings, crispy squid, lamb lollipops and wild mushroom and smoked mozzarella risotto.

Michael’s Genuine Pub marks James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz’s first American gastropub at sea. The chef expands his partnership with Royal Caribbean after collaborating on the 150 Central Park restaurants on Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas. The pub on Quantum and Anthem will features such bar snack fare (priced a la carte) as crispy pig ears, smoked fish dip and deviled eggs, all to be washed down with Michael’s Genuine Home Brew craft beer or accompanied with a bourbon flight.

Devinly Decadence at Solarium Bistro offers healthy meal options for those who might want to track their calories more closely. Devin Alexander, New York Times best-selling author and chef of TV show “The Biggest Loser,” crafted a menu full of guilt-free versions of popular meals like a low-cal burger and fries, cheesy jalapeno chicken sandwich and sausage penne bake as well as 100-calorie sweet treats. Breakfast is complimentary at this venue.

Royal Caribbean also brings the line’s enhanced versions of its longtime familiar options: Chops Grille (for-fee steakhouse), Izumi Japanese Cuisine (a la carte pricing), Chef’s Table (16-seat exclusive meal experience inside Chops), Windjammer Marketplace (buffet with 24-hour grill), Café Promenade (24-hour snacks, sandwiches and pastries), Johnny Rockets (a la carte pricing for burgers, fries and shakes) and Sorrento’s (pizzeria).

Additionally, Quantum and Anthem will have two new complimentary eateries, SeaPlex Dog House (hot dogs and sausages) and The Café @ Two70 (pressed sandwiches and custom salads).

With all these dining possibilities, Royal Caribbean says it’s sure that it is offering something to suit all tastes.

“The culinary experience is so important to our guests,” Goldstein said.

Written by John Roberts

No end to Australia's cruise boom

  • Written by Teijo Niemelä

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The recent spectacular growth of the Australian cruise market has hardly gone unnoticed within the industry, but if any confirmation was necessary, it came with Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA)'s decision to export its Cruise3Sixty conference concept, held Down Under in February. Over the past ten years, this has developed into the largest conference that brings together cruise companies and the travel-trade sector and which now attracts more than 2,000 delegates – but it had never previously been staged outside North America.

During those same ten years, the Australian market has grown an average of 20% annually, so it was a logical move for the new global CLIA to bring its premier event to Sydney as CLIA Cruise3Sixty Australasia. Brett Jardine, General Manager of CLIA Australasia (formerly the International Cruise Council Australasia), said: "This reflects the massive expansion of our local cruise industry, as well as its enormous potential. For the past two years, Australia has been the world's fastest-growing cruise market, and this event was a fantastic forum for agents and operators looking to build their cruise business further."

Cruise3Sixty Australasia was staged two-thirds of the way through another record-breaking summer cruise season, lasting from October 2013 to April 2014, which saw 34 ships (one more than during 2012/13) in the region, making 588 calls (versus 559) on 202 roundtrips (compared with 183). But an increasing number of ships are operating in the region year-round, and the stepped up deployments are boosting Australian passenger numbers, which rose from just short of 700,000 in 2012 to an estimated 760,000 in 2013. In just five years, Australia’s cruise market has increased by more than 130% and has given Australia a 3.6% share of global cruise passengers. It also means that Australia is now the fifth-largest source market, behind only the U.S., UK, Germany and Italy.

An even more significant statistic – given Australasia’s location so far from the world's major cruise source markets and cruise company bases – is that it now ranks fourth on the list of cruise destinations worldwide, based on berths deployed. For 2014, Australia accounts for 6% of all global itineraries, putting it behind only the Caribbean (37%), Mediterranean (19%) and Northern Europe (11%). But if market leader Carnival Australia is right, growth in Australia is set to accelerate still faster. Its market penetration is already on a par with the U.S. at about 3.5%, but Carnival Australia CEO Ann Sherry believes this will reach 10% by 2030. In other words, there will be 2 million Australian cruise passengers by that time, having passed the 1 million mark somewhere between 2015 and 2017.

Although Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. has become a major player, with the seasonal deployment of Royal Caribbean International's Voyager of the Seas augmenting other RCI and Celebrity ships operating in the region, Carnival Australia is driving most of the growth. It currently carries about 80% of Australian passengers on seven brands: P&O Cruises Australia (which has about 40% of the market), Princess Cruises (now selling three instead of just two of its four seasonal Australasia-based ships on the local market), Carnival Cruise Lines, Cunard Line, P&O Cruises, Holland America Line (now selling its two seasonal Australasia-based ships locally) and Seabourn Cruise Line.

In a significant move, these brands are now being marketed under the World's Leading Cruise Lines banner, which was dropped several years ago in favor of the Complete Cruise Solutions branding used in the UK retail sector. Between them, the seven lines are operating 21 ships out of Australasian ports in 2014. P&O Cruises Australia's three ships are making a record 143 cruises through 2014/15 and, for the first time, are offering cruises from every mainland state. This is because, in 2015, the brand is returning to Western Australia with the Pacific Jewel cruising out of Fremantle. This program includes two roundtrips to Asia with calls in Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore. The same ship will also make the brand's first-ever roundtrip sailings from Adelaide.

What’s more, sales for the brand's ex-Melbourne cruises in 2014 have sold so well that the season has been extended for 2015, and there are more cruises from Brisbane to Papua New Guinea (where significant port infrastructure investment has taken place). In addition, there has been an increase in the number of short-break (three-day) cruises out of three ports, including Sydney. These short cruises target first-time cruisers, and the brand has developed a DIY web marketing campaign for travel agents to support that aim.

The major boost to Carnival Australia’s capacity, though, was the introduction of Carnival Cruise Lines' Carnival Spirit beginning in October 2012. This ship – the largest to homeport year-round in Sydney – has been particularly successful in attracting first-time cruisers, who accounted for 60% of the first 100,000 booked. As a result, CCL is also deploying the Carnival Legend seasonally, as of this September, following a refit to "Aussify" its product (for example, the installation of a Green Thunder waterslide, which was previously installed aboard the Carnival Spirit). The ship will operate 8- to 12-day cruises to the South Pacific, calling at New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Fiji through the austral summer before returning to the Northern Hemisphere, and will further boost Sydney's cruise traffic, which has more than doubled from 119 calls in 2009/10 to 259 in 2013/14.

Last April, Sydney opened its new AU$57 million cruise facility at White Bay and is now planning a major upgrade of the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay. But cruise companies are still battling for more facilities that can handle megaships of increasing size, which are too tall to pass under the Harbour Bridge to the White Bay terminal. Ann Sherry has always been vocal on this issue, while RCI President and CEO Adam Goldstein recently said, "The challenge in Australia is the need for Sydney, in particular, to augment its infrastructure so that the industry's newer, larger ships can homeport there. Every time I am in Sydney, I meet with government officials in New South Wales to advocate for infrastructure investment."

Most recently, both CEOs have been lobbying for the government to open up the Garden Island Royal Australian Navy site for regular cruise calls. Following a study into its use, cruise lines were given increased access but still on a largely ad hoc basis, so there is no clear understanding of how many calls will be allowed. The industry is now awaiting the results of a task force, set up last summer by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, to look into moving some or all of the naval fleet to Queensland. Rudd has clearly seen the benefits of cruise tourism, which directly generates more than AU$1.7 billion for the national economy, including AU$1 billion just for New South Wales (NSW). In fact, including indirect benefits and the impact of the domestic cruise sector, the total economic impact approaches AU$2.9 billion. But the most recent impact study projects that the number of ships unable to pass under the bridge will increase from a third to 56% by 2020 – calling into question how much traffic (and therefore economic impact) can really grow.

There also are questions regarding the proposed development of a new terminal on Queensland's Gold Coast. A preferred developer (China Property Consortium) was announced last month, but now an economic impact study has been commissioned to test the whole project's viability, which has been undermined by the decision not to allow a casino license. Meanwhile, there have been a couple of other boosts to the Australasian cruise sector, starting with the decision by UK-based Cruise and Maritime Voyages to create an Australian division to operate the chartered Astor in the budget sector, which has been reduced in size by the failure of a previous operator. At the other end of the price scale, luxury brand Ponant Cruises has set up an Australian office (headed by industry veteran Sarina Bratton) and deployed one of its newest ships, L'Austral, to both Australia and New Zealand for the 2014/15 season.

In the current season of New Zealand cruising, there has actually been a slight reduction in traffic, with eight fewer cruises (121), on four fewer ships (33) spending 24 fewer days (739) in port. As a result, the number of cruise visitors is expected to fall 11,000 to exactly 200,000 – composed of 184,000 international (down nearly 10,000) and 15,700 domestic (down nearly 2,000). But this did follow a season (2011/12) which enjoyed a 22% increase in cruise visitors and a 7% increase to NZ$310 million in economic impact. The largest two source markets remain Australia (51%) and the US (19%) – although the largest drop in passengers is among Australians, while there has been an increase in U.S. passengers. While the overall numbers are expected to remain around 200,000 in 2014/15, the increase in U.S. passengers is expected to continue. And the 2012 dip in the total number of New Zealanders cruising is expected to be reversed this year.

Witten by Tony Peisley

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