Launch of the superjumbo cruising ‘town’

MARSEILLE, France – The cruise line business is riding high and the luxury liner of tomorrow will be more like a floating town the length of four football pitches and capable of carrying 6,000 passengers.

The next generation of liner will contain 1,700-seat theatres, shopping malls and even wave pools for surfing and be up to about 410 metres long.

By comparison, the ill-fated Titanic, still substantial by recent standards, carried 2,500 passengers and was 883 feet (268 metres) long.

This quantum leap in the dimension of the luxury liner was apparant at the sixth “Top Cruise” show grouping cruise operators, travel agents and port managers here last week.

The president of the French cruise federation, Georges Azouze, said: “Fifteen years ago, cruise liners carried 500 to 600 passengers on average. Today, a ship of 1,000 passengers is small. Some ships carry 3,000 people or even 4,000 passengers.”

Competition between two of the leading cruise operators, Carnival and Royal Caribbean Cruise (RCC) makes the point.

In 2004, Carnival displayed the Queen Mary 11, a monarch of the seas, 345 metres long with cabins for 2,620 passengers.

In 2006, RCC came up with Freedom of the Seas, 339 metres (1,140 feet) long but with room for 4,200 passengers.

The representative of RCC in France, Bernard Echevarria told AFP: “In 2008-2009 we will move on to ‘Genesis’ cruise liners which will be able to take up to 6,000 passengers”.

The drive for size is explained by economies of scale. These liners, which ply their trade mainly in the Caribbean or Mediterranean seas, are able to operate at an ever falling rate of staff per 100 passengers.

On-board facilities such as casinos, shops and theatres generate extra revenue and enable the operator to reduce the headline price of a week aboard, thereby increasing the potential market.

These superjumbo liners also meet growing demand for package deals with extensive entertainment all included.

A representative of Carnival, Cedric Rivoire-Perrochat, told AFP: “Our biggest competitors at the moment are not necessarily the other cruise operators but holiday centres”.

So the cruise liner has now become “a floating island of entertainment”.

Customers have responded. In 2005, the cruise business attracted 14.4 million passengers, and increase of 7.5 percent from the figure in 2004, and bookings are expected to rise by 30 percent by 2009.

Echevarria remarked: “The average age of 70, which was the case before, has long been a thing of the past.”

There is however a limit to the size of these giants.