The boss of cruise operator Royal Caribbean Cruises has underscored the importance of the UK to the business at a time when the challenges in the eurozone and the aftermath of the Costa Concordia accident have contributed to a drop in traveller numbers.

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Royal Caribbean Cruises is the world’s second largest cruise company, operating the Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Pullmantur, Azamara

Club Cruises and CDF Croisieres de France brands, as well as TUI Cruises through a 50pc joint venture. It operates 40 ships capable of carrying about 94,000 passengers calling on 400 destnations across the world.

In the UK ships set sail from Harwich and Southampton.

And speaking exclusively to the EDP Adam Goldstein, president and CEO of the Miami-based travel operation, said the east coast port was a vital part of its operation.

But he warned ongoing problems in the eurozone, falling consumer spending and the aftermath of the Costa Concordia sinking off the Italian coast in January had all contributed to a fall in bookings, which were rising by 5pc before the accident.

However he added that the early year dip was starting to show signs of improving and he was more optimistic about 2013 and he was expecting to see growth in South American and Asian markets, although challenges remained, particularly in Europe.

“This has obviously been a challenging year for the industry,” Mr Goldstein said. “It turned out to be not to be the kind of year we hoped for or expected in January. We are very grateful that the travel industry has stood by our business.

“We remain optimistic about the ability of our brand to get into all regions of the world including Europe and certainly in emerging areas of the world such as Chine and Brazil.”

“As it relates to Europe, we are very cognisant of the challenges that remain in this region , but it’s also the world’s biggest holiday market. Even in challenging times we believe we can be a successful operator of cruises here.

“The UK remains the single most important cruise market in the world. Harwich has been and continues to be a main stay home port for us and it tends to be relatively more attractive for North Americans to come to as a launch port for the North European cruises and we are pleased with that.

“We’ve always been pleased to operate in and out of Harwich and we’ve got a good relationship with the community and the port. For the British market that’s also strong.”

Mr Goldstein said that Royal Caribbean was midway through a five year £100m programme to refurbish 15 of its ships, and he was also keen to dispel the suggestion that cruises were the preserve of older holiday makers.

“The average age of people on cruises for our brand is 44,” he said. “We have everybody from six months to 100 year old citizens on board and everybody in between. We think we have long since left behind the image that cruises are for older people.”

He was speaking as the company unveiled that a new vessel, Celebrity Reflection, was becoming part of its Celebrity Cruises modern luxury fleet

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