Lower Prices on the High Seas (but they still need to lower their footprint)

Suppose you build an outrageously large and opulent boat:


Your entire business model involves the manufacture of grandeur. You’re in the service industry, and your customers are served a taste of posh affluence.


Perhaps your company’s name even subtly hints towards the regal (Royal Caribbean; Princess), or alludes to festivals and escape and the unbridling of inhibitions (Carnival), or—maybe—simply and bluntly appeals to a culturally universal yearning towards popularity (Celebrity). 


Now suppose the floor falls out from under that market.


Though decidedly harsh (and possibly a tad caustic), this equivocation is pretty much descriptive of the big cruise lines’ current positions.


By now, the phrase “another victim of the economic downturn” has become a bit trite. But, in truth, that’s the exact boat [sorry] these companies are in.


The downturn[/recession/depression/collapse/pick-your-favorite-descriptive-noun]has emasculated nearly all luxury segments, and cruise lines aren’t unique in that respect. But, unlike Fendi, and Bergdorf Goodman (who can stop making so many conspicuously unnecessary luxury goods, and stocking absurd $600 hats respectively), cruise lines are in a bit of a pickle, in that they can’t exactly stop owning 1100ft. boats. (Currently—according to a recent poll asking dudes named Steve who happen to be writing blogs about cruise lines and fur hats—there’s even less of a market for 1100ft. boats than there is for “Silver Fox Fur Hats,” which, though impressive, illustrates the corner these companies have painted themselves into.)

Two articles on the New York Times deal with cruise vacations.

One of them discusses the fact that now just might be the best time to book a cruise. The other might (if you happen to be particularly susceptible overreactions when reading about carbon footprints) blow your mind.

As it turns out, when you’re saddled with a boat the size of a small city and interest goes down in expensive vacations, you have to cut prices. This fact is nicely summed up in the second sentence of the first article: “Practically all cruise lines are offering significant discounts to just about anywhere they sail.”

They’re literally giving away vacations (if you’re an accompanied child):

“MSC Cruises, which already allows children ages 17 and under to sail free, has savings of up to 50 percent for baby boomers at least 50 years old and seniors on Caribbean sailings with rates from $499 a person for seven nights, and 60 percent off European cruises for seniors. And Norwegian Cruise Line has just introduced rates for kids, or any third guest or more sharing a cabin, as low as $99, down from $499 normally, and will offer up to $250 in on-board credit good toward shore excursions, specialty dinners, spa treatments or other extras on bookings made by March 15.”

Before you click, call, or pack to jump on a great deal, you should read the second article–especially if you’re concerned with the other type of green. 

Those who assumed that sailing was the eco-friendly choice should know that cruise ships, “emit nearly twice as much carbon dioxide as airplanes.” Worse yet,

“According to environmentalists, carbon dioxide emissions are just a drop in the ocean when it comes to eco problems on luxury liners. Most ships run on so-called bunker fuel, the cheapest and dirtiest fuel oil, which not only powers the vessel, but also all the amenities on board: restaurants, swimming pools and nightclubs among them. Royal Caribbean will launch its largest ship yet this year, the Oasis of the Seas with a capacity of 5,400 passengers, and its amenities will include a microclimate-controlled Central Park, with irrigation and drainage systems, as well as trees that will tower more than two and a half decks high.”

Despite all the cause for alarm, the  Cruise Line International Association remains hopeful:

“Terry Dale, chief executive officer of the association, said, “Even in these tough economic times, we are forecasting that in 2009 a record 13.5 million people will take a cruise,” adding that last year the industry was worth $38 billion, employing roughly 350,000 United States workers. “As a leader in travel we feel we have to be industry stewards of the environment,” he said. “We are not sitting back, but rather trying hard to be proactive and meet the challenges.””