With the help of a Carnival Corp. team based in Japan and market research, Princess Cruises expects passengers from around the world but has designed the voyages specifically to appeal to Japanese markets, basing itineraries around cultural festivals and incorporating traditional ceremonies into the sailing experience.
Key crew members will speak Japanese, and the dining room will include sushi offerings as well as Japanese breakfast, noodle bar, sake menu and regional tea tastings. The line is keeping its signature Princess features, including a variety of food and entertainment options, open-air movies by the pool and the quiet Sanctuary area.
Jan Swartz, executive vice president of sales, marketing and customer service for Princess Cruises, said the champagne waterfall that frequent Princess guests will remember will be joined by a traditional sake barrel opening ceremony called a kagamiwari.
“It’s a beautiful juxtaposition of all the things that Princess brings to passengers, but also is a nod to the country that we’re sailing from and their traditions as well,” Swartz said.
Later this year, Royal Caribbean will also have its largest deployment yet in Asia, with two 3,114-passenger ships sailing from Singapore, Shanghai and Tianjin. Goldstein said the Chinese deployments must have crew members, entertainers and tour guides who speak Mandarin, and a balance of new foods as well as traditional Chinese comfort food.
“It is certainly a more complicated undertaking than if we were just taking Americans in English to all parts of the world,” Goldstein said. “But that’s not really what our business and the modern cruise industry is about.”
Still, North Americans remain crucial to the industry. According to CLIA, U.S. passengers made up more than 56 percent of cruisers in 2011; second place went to the United Kingdom, with just over 9 percent of the total.
Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line has four ships in Europe this summer, but president and CEO Kevin Sheehan said the company is trying to get as many Americans as possible on board.
“Europeans don’t spend on the shore excursions as much as Americans,” he said. “They don’t spend the same way in the casino.”
Sheehan said costly airfare from the U.S. to Europe complicated efforts to lure more Americans last year, a common wrinkle that can discourage cruising abroad, especially when plane tickets cost more than a week at sea.
To erase that hurdle, some lines have turned to packages offering free airfare when customers book a cruise. That’s the standard for Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises, Miami-based lines owned by Prestige Cruise Holdings.
“We believe that that offer works because air, quite frankly, is a major hassle,” said Kunal Kamlani, president of both brands. “Prices tend to increase, air taxes tend to increase.”
Making it easier for guests to reach ships is key for Regent and Oceania, which draw the vast majority of customers from North America to destinations around the world.
“In the last year or year-and-a-half, the bias seems to be more towards international; we’ve got a slightly different view,” Kamlani said. “We’re getting great growth internationally, but we think our bread and butter is North America.”
Although the two-ship Azamara Club Cruises line caters to a majority of North American guests, those still make up less than half of passengers on any given cruise. But because of the brand’s upmarket niche, even foreign travelers are comfortable with an English product, Pimentel said. Even so, the company features entertainment that appeals to broad audiences, daily news in more than 20 languages and culinary choices designed for an international mix.
For 2014, the famously destination-intensive brand is even offering some cruises in California’s wine country geared especially to Australian and European guests.
“I think we will see a lot of people who are not Americans on that segment,” Pimentel said.
As the customer base has expanded outside the U.S., so have the efforts of the Cruise Lines International Association, which represents cruise lines and travel agents. The trade organization announced in December that nine industry associations around the world were joining forces under the CLIA umbrella.
While working with travel agents abroad to make sure they are equipped to sell cruises, CLIA president and CEO Christine Duffy said the association is also focused on working on safety and security globally.
“That’s why it was important to say that there was one unified structure, to say that there is one industry with one voice,” she said.
At least for now, that industry appears to be focused on how best to tap the growing middle class in China and Japan. North American cruise lines that aren’t in the region yet are pondering how best to start, while letting their forerunners explore the market.
Peisley said he believes cruise lines that really want to appeal to markets within Asia will need to build ships for that purpose, focusing less on bars and sun decks that are unlikely to appeal to local passengers and more on food and entertainment.
Carnival Cruise Lines’ Thornton said the line can learn a lot from Italian sister brand Costa Cruises, which has been sailing in Asia for years . The American brand is studying which markets and deployments would be best to tackle initially. “The challenges are [that] Asia’s obviously a huge geographic area and there are very distinctive source markets within Asia — and all of them would require a sizeable market investment to start a brand,” he said.
Norwegian Cruise Line, with majority shareholder Genting Hong Kong already based in China, also has an eye on eventually moving into the market. But he said there’s no rush.
“Let’s see how the market continues to develop and when it’s more seasoned and not so much of a risk, we’ll waltz in there,” he said.
With only 11 ships now and two more coming by 2014, Sheehan said the priority now is making sure each of the ships sails in a market where the line is comfortable.
“I don’t want to take any unnecessary risk with the business as it is at this level,” Sheehan said. “If I had 100 ships, I could take a lot of risk.”
For a giant cruise company such as Carnival Corp., experimenting with emerging markets is a small gamble, said Jaime Katz, equity analyst for Morningstar in Chicago.
“I think by putting one or two ships in a new market, you’re not really rolling the dice,” Katz said. “It could be a home run, it could be an absolute disaster. But at the end of the day, you have to get your feet wet in a new market and see if it holds up.”