There’s a lot to see and do in New Zealand – with its stunning landscapes and Maori history, exciting adventure opportunities and exotic birdlife. And cruising is a convenient way to see highlights on both the North and South Islands.
Now you just need to convince your clients of that.
The fact is, New Zealand is likely already on the radar of cruise customers who are "destination collectors," said Mark Kammerer, senior vice president, marketing and North American sales, for Holland America.
"We look at it as a place with great appeal to North Americans," said Kammerer.
Celebrity executive Keith Lane agreed. After passengers have cruised in the Caribbean and Europe, they start thinking New Zealand, said Lane, field sales vice president. "For cruises, New Zealand offers a plethora of unique opportunities with different ports of call."
The product: Jump in capacity
Luxury lines regularly visit New Zealand as they roam the world, sometimes lingering for a few sailings.
Mainstream lines Royal Caribbean and Carnival (new to Australia year-round this coming October) have select sailings that call on New Zealand, mostly marketed to Australians.
But it is the premium lines that are putting big-time stakes in the New Zealand market. In the upcoming 2012/2013 season:
• Holland America is increasing its two-ship capacity by 25%, bringing the Vista-class Oosterdam to New Zealand along with the Volendam;
• Celebrity has the Celebrity Solstice replacing the Century, a 60% rise in capacity;
• Princess, which increased from three to four ships this season, will keep the Diamond, Sun, Dawn and Sea in the market next season.
The number of cruisers visiting New Zealand has increased more than 250% in the past five years.
Tourism New Zealand cited cruises as its fastest-growing tourism sector, and the marketing group Cruise New Zealand has predicted the number of cruise passenger arrivals will top 200,000 by 2014.
North America is one of the largest source markets, comprising about 25% of cruise passengers to New Zealand. (Australians make up the largest passenger segment, historically 40% of the market.)
Kammerer of Holland America said that in the upcoming 2012/2013 season he expects half the line's passengers on New Zealand cruises to be from the U.S. and Canada; the other half will comprise locals and the rest of the world, including the U.K.
Celebrity's Lane has even more ambitious plans for the North American market.
"We'd like to see more North Americans travel over there," Lane said. "Even 50% this year (on Century) was not good enough. We are looking for higher numbers from Solstice."
It was North American agents who asked for a Solstice-class ship in the market in the first place, Lane said. "As I traveled throughout North America, agents were saying, ‘Get any ship over there for momentum, and Solstice would be a dream.’"
The basics: when, where, what
High season for New Zealand cruises is October to March, which is spring-summer on that side of the equator.
Most New Zealand cruises are for 12 to 14 days or more and operate open-jaw between Auckland and Sydney.
This makes it easy for passengers who want a two-country experience – enhanced by pre- and post-cruise excursions – to see Australia's Great Barrier Reef or hike the legendary Milford Track, for instance. Some cruises also embark from Melbourne or Brisbane, Australia.
While the routes vary, the itineraries tend to hit several must-sees, including a day in the tranquil waters of Fjordland National Park. The experience includes a sail into Milford Sound, a glacial fjord cut through snow-covered mountains that Rudyard Kipling called “the eighth wonder of the world."
The typical itinerary visits Dunedin, where there is opportunity to visit albatross and yellow-eyed penguins or take a gorge train ride; and Tauranga, for easy access to Rotorua’s geysers and Maori cultural attractions or the nearby "Hobbiton" movie set from the "Lord of the Rings" movies.
Other highlights include the city of Napier, known for its Art Deco architecture; the capital city of Wellington, home to the Te Papa national museum, and the Southern Alps, including ethereal lakes made famous in the "Lord of the Rings" movies.
Some cruises also visit the scenic and historically significant Bay of Islands.
For active travelers
Along the route, there are plenty of opportunities to get active – kayaking and hiking; adrenaline-rush activities such as white -water rafting, bungee-jumping and sandboarding (surfing on sand dunes), and visiting glowworm caves.
Most cruises also visit Hobart, Tasmania, Australia's offshore state, where passengers can explore the Port Arthur penal colony, a UNESCO World Heritage site; visit wineries, and learn about the marsupial called the Tasmanian Devil.
Regional variations onboard
The cruise lines tweak the entertainment and food on their New Zealand cruises, in part to appeal to Australian passengers.
On a recent cruise on the 1,800-passenger Celebrity Century, this included stocking Australian beer and wine, adding meat pies at the pizza station and bringing on Australian entertainers.
"Without changing the product entirely, we are adding Australian things," said Darren Tiller, the ship's British hotel director. "We're trying to reach out to the Australian market.”
Holland America makes regional enhancements too. Menus, for instance, feature New Zealand Salmon Wellington and New Zealand lamb.
The experience on the cruises includes mingling with international passengers, though most are English-speaking – albeit with different accents.
Making it easy for Americans, the US dollar is the onboard currency on American brands.
Agents, don’t miss out
Kammerer urged agents not to forget the very basic step of asking clients if they are interested in visiting New Zealand.
"You can make good money selling cruises over there. They are longer cruises, and you can often sell air, often business class, for the premium marketplace," Kammerer said.
Agents need to be prepared to talk about air options, Lane advised. "The biggest speed bump is the length and cost of air."
But getting to new Zealand is not as expensive as most people think, he said. Air fares for the upcoming season are below $1,500.