Hawaii gaining as cruise ship destination
The market has been taking off since Norwegian Cruises introduced its Pride of Aloha
More cruisers may be catching a wave to Hawaii in 2007, judging from the results of recent cruise travel polls that examined where cruisers are headed this year and what types of product that they are seeking.
While Hawaii has long been a stop on cruise ships bound for other destinations, the state's cruise industry took off in 2004 when Norwegian Cruise Lines introduced Pride of Aloha, Hawaii's first home-ported vessel for interisland cruises since American Classic Voyages went out of business following 9/11. And, it's been accelerating every since, said Danny Ching, owner of Non Stop Travel, NCL's largest cruise agent in Hawaii.
"Our business has doubled in the last few years and NCL is a good part of that," Ching said. "Our customers are asking for their Hawaii product. There's more awareness in the marketplace."
The largest booking period of the year for the cruise business, called wave season within the industry, is now under way. And despite Hawaii's relative newness as a cruise destination, Travelocity customers prefer it to Alaska and other destinations such as Europe, South America and more exotic destinations. Hawaii was also named the fifth most popular cruising destination in a Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) market profile prepared by TNS Travel & Transport.
The bulk of Travelocity cruisers, 47 percent, plan to go to the Caribbean, and Mexico, at 10 percent; however Hawaii -- with a 9 percent demand rating -- is holding its own against other more established destinations. Alaska came in with a 7 percent demand rating; the remaining 27 percent of cruisers split demand among a variety of other locales.
In the TNS study, 16 percent of cruisers polled preferred Hawaii. Again the bulk of travelers , 47 percent, preferred the Caribbean and Mexico, while 36 percent wanted to cruise to the Bahamas, 29 percent dreamed of traveling to Alaska and 19 percent to Bermuda.
That's on top of a recent study commissioned by the International Council of Cruise Lines, which named Hawaii the fastest-growing cruise destination market in the United States. Hawaii is steadily climbing in its ranking nationwide -- from No. 15 in 2003 to No. 8 in 2005 -- as measured by direct cruise industry spending, the ICCL said. In 2006, Hawaii is expected to rank No. 6 in the nation. Florida ranked No. 1, followed by California, the association said.
"We're very busy selling Hawaii, but all the cruises are doing well," said Preston Lum, vice president of Cruise Holidays.
Cruise Holidays, like many cruise agents in Hawaii, said that it has seen at least a five percent increase in business this wave season, which traditionally runs from January to March.
"Even now, people who haven't reserved their cabins might be disappointed," Lum said, "Some people started booking 2007 vacations as early as last summer."
As ships continue to fill, those passengers who wait to book might pay a premium, as most travelers now book their cruises at least four to six months in advance, a CLIA travel agent poll found.
"Some CLIA travel agents have reported that travelers booked 2008 cruises nearly two years in advance. Others have said that their 2007 booking levels are already exceeding those of 2006, "said Terry L. Dale, president and chief executive officer of CLIA, the chief marketing organization for 21 premier cruise lines and 16,500 North American travel agencies.
CLIA member lines, which include Hawaii's own NCL America, are kicking off this year's wave season with upgrades from standard staterooms to balcony accommodations, "kids sail free" programs, early booking savings, airfare upgrades from economy to business class, shipboard credits, and cruise giveaways.
NCL America's pricing has been softer since its third home-ported ship, the Pride of Hawaii, arrived in 2006, said Ching.
"Basically demand hasn't quite caught up to the inventory, but I don't expect this condition to last," Ching said. "NCL America's prices will rise as word continues to get out about the value of their product."
Customers from Korea, Japan, China, Australia, Europe and New Zealand have discovered Hawaii cruises and have upped bookings, he said. The offering is popular with kamaaina and U.S. mainlanders as well, Ching said.
"Since prices dropped on NCL America, we've seen a lot more demand for the product from kamaaina travelers," Lum said.
There's been some price softening across all sectors this wave season because a record number of ships, 150, will be in service by 2010, the CLIA said. Seven new ships debuted in 2006, and another nine are scheduled to launch in 2007, the association said.
Since most lines heavily discount tickets to fill boats rather than sail at low occupancy, the additional inventory could lead to more deal-making during this peak booking season, Ching said.
For instance: NCL America is selling inner-cabins for $399 for 7-day cruises and cruises to other popular destinations such as Alaska are running about $1,600 including airfare, hotel and transportation, he said.
Ordinarily most Hawaii cruises run from $700 to $900 and cruises to Alaska can run $2,500, Ching said.
"Customers who want to go on a cruise in 2007 won't find any better prices unless they are flexible enough about booking times and destinations to wait until the last minute, but that's really leaving their vacation up to chance," he said.