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Retailing The Seven Seas

With mammoth new ships, new attractions, and sophisticated retail environments, the cruise industry is keeping the wow alive.

Posted 2/3/2011

By Sean O'Brien


It spans 16 decks and encompasses 225,283 gross tons. Its seven neighborhoods include 2,700 staterooms, ice rinks, theaters, gyms, bars and restaurants, shopping malls, climbing gyms and dual Flowriders. It cost well over a billion dollars to build and when Royal Caribbean International's Allure Of The Seas took its maiden voyage December 12, 2010 its 5,400 passengers weren't just boarding the largest cruise ship that ever was, they entered a new era in high-seas retailing.

When the Allure's sister ship Oasis Of The Seas launched in 2009, some analysts worried. Much in the world had changed since construction of the Oasis began in 2006, near the top of the economic bubble. The ship, however, won rave reviews, and the worldwide cruise industry turned out to be surprisingly resilient to economic downturn. According to Cruise Lines International Association, even during the deepest economic trough seen in a generation, passenger growth remained close to the seven percent per annum increase the cruise market has enjoyed since 1990.

"When we launched Oasis of the Seas in late 2009, we had high expectations for its revolutionary seven-neighborhood design and expansive onboard offerings," says Joanne Schimelman, vice president, sales and national accounts for Royal Caribbean International. "But we could not have predicted the level of success the ship has enjoyed during its first year in service and how it has earned worldwide media attention, praise and industry awards and recognition."

Schimelman says the Allure raises the bar even higher, offering DreamWorks branded attractions, new restaurants, and an array of twelve retail stores, including the first Guess Accessories store and Britto Store at sea, as well as a Coach company store. Perhaps it's no surprise that the ship also features the first Starbucks at sea.

"Royal Caribbean International was the first cruise line to introduce the active cruise vacation concept and you see that with our iconic rock-climbing walls, ice-skating rinks, full-size basketball courts, mini-golf courses, the FlowRider surf simulator and more," says Schimelman when asked to describe the target demographic. "Allure of the Seas' Guess Accessory Store, the Coach fine leather store and the Britto Store all cater to the wide range of tastes and styles of our guests. The unprecedented range of onboard vacation experiences appeal to families, multigenerational vacationers and couples alike."

According to Cruise Lines International Association, Royal Caribbean is the largest cruise line in the world, followed closely by Carnival Cruise Lines. Princess, Costa and Norwegian round out the top five. The Caribbean remains the undisputed leader when it come to popular cruise destinations, followed by the Mediterranean, Europe, Bahamas, and Alaska.

And servicing these retail locations on Royal Caribbean's ships is Starboard Cruise Services, the world's largest and leading onboard retailer. "We operate on more than 80 cruise ships worldwide, representing seven cruise lines," says Surf Expo regular Brian Acosta, associate merchandise manager apparel for Starboard Cruise Services. Acosta says his company has more than 1,200 retail employees onboard various cruise ships and more than 300 people at the corporate headquarters in Miami, Florida.

"For more than 50 years, we have successfully adapted to the changing and fast-growing cruise line industry," says Acosta. "As we adapt, we innovate and continue to grow. We are committed to being the world's largest and leading onboard retailer, offering cruise ship guests world-class brands and exclusive merchandise with tax and duty-free savings. Our global reach ensures we are in a unique position to truly understand the cruising guest."

Its unique position in the cruise industry provides Starboard with a great perspective on market changes. According to Acosta, the biggest shift in the cruise market demographic has been the growth in non-American customers as the popularity of cruising continues to spread around the world. "For instance, in the Mediterranean, many cruise lines are sourcing European guests, and in South America it is South American guests," he says. "With the changing demographics, we are continuing to broaden our knowledge of the global market. Our goal is stay abreast of trends, brands and products that are important to key demographics around the world. This has caused an increase in our branded apparel business."

So when Acosta is planning the product assortment for a particular ship, how does he envision the customers in his mind's eye? "This is the most challenging and exciting part about buying for the cruise lines," he says. "Each cruise line, ship and itinerary offers a new guest demographic. It is very important to understand the cruise line profile and the guest onboard as we make buying decisions. Our goal is to create great cruise memories for our guests onboard."

Acosta says Starboard does a large business in souvenir tee shirts, in addition to offering resort and destination-themed collections. "With the economic challenges, we have seen an increase in sales of our promotional driven items," he says. "However, with some of the new ship launches and the excitement around them, we have also seen success with higher end branded apparel."

As the economy improves, Acosta predicts the cruise market will benefit. "I think this growth will only continue," he says. "It is exciting that the cruise lines continue to launch new ships with new amenities and experiences. We are also excited to see the cruise lines deploy ships to many different regions of the world. This gives us the opportunity to reach new guests and offer new products to returning guests.

"We have seen some expansions of the retail experience on some of the newer ships," Acosta continues. "More importantly, we always challenge ourselves on all ships to keep the guest’s shopping experience fresh by offering the most updated brands, styles and embellishments."

Acosta says Starboard is always on the looking for opportunities to create partnerships with brands for standalone locations and shop-in-shop concepts, but reminds companies how important it is that the brand’s customer profile aligns with that of the cruise line. But he's effusive about what he finds at Surf Expo. "It plays a major role in our business," he says. "Our merchants attend both shows each year. First, it's great to connect with our current vendors and discuss business and new opportunities. Also, we're able to look for new and emerging trends in the market and develop new vendor partnerships. We have had many successes in our business based some of the new partnerships developed at Surf Expo."



Want to get in touch with Brian Acosta or the hundreds of other great buyers at Surf Expo? Contact buyer relations manager Kathy Wilkie at (678) 781-7963 or at:

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