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Sunday, July 5, 2015

Shipbuilders and the craze for cruise ships

When I wrote the post about the nine new cruise ships arriving on the scene, I wondered where these ships were being built.  Now, thanks to Brian Easton and The Economist, I know that it is not China.  It is not Japan.  It is not Taiwan.

Surprise, surprise, it is in Europe.

Two massive new MFC ships (not in my list, because they arrive somewhat later) are being built at Fincantieri’s Monfalcone yard near Trieste in northern Italy. Their construction began on June 22, when a switch was flipped to cut the first steel plate.  The order is worth 5.7 billion US dollars.

On June 15th Carnival Corporation, the world's largest cruise operator, revealed details of an agreement to buy four whoppers from Meyer Werft in Germany and Meyer Turku in Finland. 

Of the 32 cruise ships on firm order, 30 are being built in Europe, says SEA Europe, a maritime-industry group.

Why this craze for building cruise ships?  Anyone who is blitzed with advertisements from sites of the like of Avoya or Vacations to Go, or even one's own travel agent, knows that there is intense competition out there.  And cruising is just a sub-set of the travel industry as a whole.

It is because the demand is rising.  As the operators find new avenues to make cruising more attractive, and more and more people take on board the simple fact that a cruise ship is a hotel on water, providing three-plus meals a day, all housekeeping, and often world-class entertainment, as well as conveyance from one interesting place to another, for one set fee, they realise -- as one cruise line phrases it -- that this is the way to holiday.

Over twenty-two million took a cruise last year.  Twelve million were from America, six million from Europe, and I know for a fact that Australians are enthusiasts.  Asians are starting to buy into the trend.  The market is expanding beyond the classic (and I love this) "Newly weds, Over-feds, and Nearly Deads" that are the traditional customers.  Thus, we have the floating theme parks that I described in the previous post, designed to appeal to different generations and differing tastes.

Who knows how long it will keep growing?  And how long the fad will last?  The cost is so high, and the ship so complicated to manage that the operators could easily become tired of it all even before the fashion expires.  As The Economist points out, it took ten years for MSC, a cargo shipping company, to establish itself and start making a profit.  And then there is the occasional disaster, ranging from a nasty outbreak of norovirus to the actual sinking of the ship. 

But meantime, the trend is keeping European shipyards busy. 

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