Royal Caribbean facing growth “curtailment"

Royal Caribbean facing growth “curtailment"
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Royal Caribbean’s growth plans could be derailed in Sydney in 2014/15, but new facilities at Brisbane could open the door for a Queensland-based vessel the following year, the cruise line has revealed.

Capacity constraints at Sydney will come home to roost the season after next, Australia managing director Gavin Smith said, with Carnival holding slots for an additional, unnamed vessel putting further pressure on space.

Smith said itineraries are currently being developed for 2014/15 with Port Botany a potential solution to the squeeze.

“There are periods in February 2015 when there is no berth space and that is the summer when our growth plans could face material curtailment,” Smith told Travel Today. “It gets very tight from December to February so you finish up with sub optimal itineraries of 16 or 17 nights because you can’t get back to Circular Quay. That is certainly a limitation to our plans. We are working through that at the moment to see how we can get around it.”

Similar issues originally confronted Royal Caribbean for 2013/14 when Carnival booked a berth for an unnamed ship. But it was subsequently withdrawn, freeing up space.

“There was a 17-night period where we would have had a 12-night and five night itinerary,” Smith said. “ When Carnival withdrew we re-merchandised cruises in January to have a nine-night and eight-night voyage which are better itineraries.”

While declaring it was “unhelpful” for a cruise line to book for a vessel which ultimately doesn’t materialise, Smith refused to condemn Carnival.

“We are all masters of the slow reveal,” he said. “I can understand what Carnival is doing but it’s certainly unhelpful if they don’t ultimately deliver the ship.”

Smith rejected Garden Island as a solution to the 2014/15 congestion, and flagged Port Botany as a possible answer.

“The potential at Port Botany is for us to say ‘we’ll commit to this ship if you commit to helping us work one of the container terminals’,” Smith said. “But for us to make that commitment we’ve got to be very clear on what our deployments need to be.”

The cruise line also revealed it was in “active discussions” over developments in Brisbane for 2015/16 that would allow the company to expand into Queensland. Although Royal Caribbean already calls at Brisbane, it does not have permission for a full turnaround.

“It’s a warm water port from where you can cruise successfully all year,” he said. “There is a better chance of seeing further expansion by us in that period, and Brisbane is an obvious target.”

With Sydney at bursting point, Brisbane represents a “very logical alternative to a company that wants to expand”, he added.

Smith said the firm’s growth in China would be a catalyst for more Australian tonnage. A second Voyager-class ship will operate in China next year with a third on the cards.

“Whenever the third ship goes into China, and it will most certainly go, Sydney or Australia will be the most obvious summer deployment so we will have a an opportunity to deploy another ship here if Sydney can cope, which at the moment is very doubtful.”

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