The arrival of P&O Cruises’ second 3,100-passenger superliner will be the catalyst for the operator driving up efficiencies and the quality of customer service to maximise profit.
With no new ships on order and the latest two Carnival Corporation new build orders going to Princess Cruises, this week’s inaugural of Azura and the arrival next year of the 700-capacity Adonia will be followed by a pause in capacity growth.
David Dingle, Carnival UK chief executive did not rule out further new ships being ordered for P&O Cruises by parent company Carnival Corporation, which has slowed the pace of development to two to three ships a year.
However, he hinted the operator would take some time to absorb the recent significant capacity increase, following Azura’s joining P&O Cruises’ other superliner Ventura in a fleet of seven ships.
Unlike other brands in the Carnival family, P&O Cruises remains staunchly targeted at a single national market.
Dingle said P&O Cruises has always filled its ships when new vessels have been taken on and he saw the potential for further expansion of the UK market.
“At the moment at least 3.5% of Americans buy a cruise a year, in the UK that figure is 2.5%. Compared to America, which is the largest and longest-growing market in the world, we are under-penetrated.
“There is no reason why we should not at least reach the level of penetration we have in America. P&O Cruises is the largest operator in the UK market and the preference of more people in this country than any other line.
“One in five cruisers are on a P&O cruise. We have leadership in the market and continue to grow. All the signs are when we add capacity we fill our ships.”
Azura is the last ship of its class that will be built. Developed for sister line Princess Cruises it does not conform to new building regulations that are coming in.
Dingle added: “We haven’t got any orders at the moment, but we know in the long term the UK market can absorb more P&O Cruises’ ships.
“We can just focus for the next few years, rather than growing by adding new ships, on profitability, economic efficiency and ever-improving customer service.
“If you get more efficient with your costs then you are going to become more profitable and if you have ever-better customer service then your customers are going to want to sail with you more than ever before and probably pay more for it.”
Dingle said, due to the relatively steady capacity growth of P&O cruises in recent years, the slowing of Carnival’s new build programme would not necessarily mean a slowing of growth for the line.
“P&O Cruises has not had the large number of ships that some other brands have had. Even if Carnival slows form six to three new ships a year that won’t necessarily mean the rhythm of introducing new ships for P&O would change that much.
“We have grown much more steadily and the nice thing about steady growth is that you tend to have a more consistent, reliable profit stream.”
The retaining of P&O Cruises’ UK focus had meant the brand had not be “diluted”, according to Dingle, and that had allowed the line to “achieve a price premium”.