Themed cruises continue to fill cabins faster than the average voyage, making them a key tactic in drumming up market interest and attracting new cruise customers in Europe.
Miland Petrozza, the front man of German thrash metal veterans Kreator, is more used to his fans wading through mud and sleeping in tents than coming to his concerts from an afternoon of shuffle board.
Yet when he shrieked the lyrics “let there be darkness, let there be blood tonight” across the decks of luxury liner Mein Schiff 1 last week, the passengers of Europe’s largest heavy metal cruise had gladly left their spas and cabins behind for the chaos of the mosh pit.
The Full Metal Cruise is one of the more unusual offerings put forward by Europe’s $48-billion cruise industry, where tour operators target special interest customers from gourmets to nudists in an attempt to broaden their client base. Operators are seeking to rebuild trust and repopularize the industry following the fatal grounding of the Carnival Corp. cruise ship Costa Concordia off the coast of Tuscany in January 2012.
Kreator were among more than 20 bands booked by TUI Cruises, a joint venture between Europe’s largest tour operator TUI AG and Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., to lure almost 2,000 fans onto a round trip from Hamburg to Southampton via Amsterdam ending May 12. Most guests were first-time cruisers, said Godja Soennichsen, a spokeswoman for the company, while beer consumption at about 16 liters a head was more than six times higher than average.
The cruise industry’s penetration in Europe is about one- third of that in the U.S., said Jan Bovermann, a consultant at AT Kearney in Copenhagen, yet before the Carnival shipwreck it appeared to be catching up. The industry posted double-digit growth in European passenger numbers every year between 2007 and 2011, according to data compiled by Cruise Line International Association, with the annual total doubling between 2005 and 2012 to 6.1 million.
“The Costa Concordia was a disaster beyond belief for the industry,” Bovermann said. “I cannot think of a cruise liner that sunk since the Titanic. While the market in the U.S. has recovered, bookings in Europe remain poor.”
TUI AG today said its cruise business, which also consists of luxury arm Hapag Lloyd cruises, had an operating loss of 11 million euros ($14.2 million) in the six months ended March 31. While TUI Cruises was able to fill all its cabins, the load factor at Hapag Lloyd fell to 70 percent, prompting a push to cut costs and potentially reduce the fleet of five ships.
For the Full Metal Cruise, pursuing holiday-makers less fearful of death and destruction may be a cure for the industry malaise. The fate of the Costa Concordia, which is still visible as a wreck off the coast of Italian tourism hotspot Tuscany, has done little to deter German music fans from selling out the trip.
The cruise was organized to drum up publicity, generate income, and reduce prejudice in a client group which may have previously had reservations toward cruises, Soennichsen said. The average passenger age on the trip was 39, compared with a typical target range of 45 to 65.
The starting-point of Germany was the fastest growing of Europe’s five largest markets at almost 15 percent per year through 2011, the Cruise Line International data shows. The industry has benefited from a large middle class with 30 days of statutory paid leave per year, the highest in Europe, according to data from Eurofound. Germans, heavy metal fans or otherwise, are also desirable holidaymakers because they spend more on board compared with other Europeans, according to Bovermann.
Passenger growth in Germany slowed to 11 percent after 32 passengers died aboard the Cost Concordia, forcing operators to offer discounts to fill empty cabins. The Italian market shrunk 9 percent and Spain 18 percent.
The decline in Spain, where unemployment has reached a record 27 percent since a decade-long property bubble burst in 2008, has been exacerbated more than most by economic turmoil, the European Cruise Council said in a report. Italy “will not be fully back to normal much before 2014,” it said.
Carnival’s fleet of cruise liners has been beset by at least four further mishaps this year, including an engine fire that crippled the Triumph ship in February, leaving 3,100 passengers stranded at sea for four days. Two passengers went missing from a cruise ship in Australia earlier this month and have not been found. The incidents forced Carnival to cut its profit forecast for the year after it paid reimbursements and spent more on fire protection systems.
To make sure it could attract music lovers to the 962-cabin Mein Schiff 1, TUI teamed up with the organizers of Wacken Open Air in northern Germany, the world’s largest open-air heavy metal music festival, to make sure the appropriate artists came on board. The ship also boasts two outdoor swimming pools, nine restaurants and 11 bars.
“The after-hours heavy metal karaoke was especially popular, and our on-board tattoo artist was working around the clock,” Soennichsen said. The ship doctor reported no more than one broken bone and two incidents including incisional wounds, which meant a “very quiet” trip for him, she added.
With assistance from Christopher Palmeri in Los Angeles. Editors: John Bowker and Benedikt Kammel.
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Photo credit: German a cappella metal band Van Canto on stage on the Mein Schiff 1 cruise ship. Full Metal Cruise