Harding to become Carnival Cruise Line’s largest retail partner in March 2023

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Cruise retailer Harding has expanded its relationship with Carnival Cruise Line (CCL) through a deal under which the UK-based company will take over the retail offerings onboard a further five ships between now and March 2023, bringing the total to 13.

By then, Harding Retail will become Carnival Cruise Line’s largest retail partner, with retail operations for more than half of its fleet. The five ships that will switch currently have onboard retail concessions with Germany-based Heinemann and Starboard Cruise Services, owned by LVMH.

Harding CEO James Prescott said: “We have worked hand in hand to return to full service. The award of the additional ships is a testament to Carnival’s confidence in us.” Harding has been working with CCL since 2015 and, with its parent group, Carnival Corporation, for over 30 years.

Data-driven commercial model

Key to the expanded collaboration is a new commercial model, supported by a data and insight program that Harding has developed over the past five years. According to Harding, it enables the retailer to establish the right customer proposition and commercial model for a cruise line’s specific needs.

In a statement, Jeremy Schiller, Carnival Cruise Line’s vice president of retail operations, said, “The Harding team has demonstrated a deep and broad expertise in cruise retail and a collaborative approach that is essential to long-term success.” The cruise line simplified its Covid-19 protocols in mid-August, helping to cancel bookings that were “very solid” through the end of 2022, according to CCL’s president Christine Duffy.

This is welcome news for Harding as it is being rolled out on the new ships. While the retailer has not revealed any further details of its new model or insights program, a spokesperson told TBEN.com: “We are now working in a partnership where our goals are aligned and where we can create a retail proposition for the guests based on what they want, rather than what we can sell (profitably). While we can’t go into the commercial details, we can say that this is a long-term, genuine partnership that benefits guests, the cruise line, the retailer and the brands.”

Being data-driven and customer-centric is nothing new in High Street retail, but it’s still a developing area in the travel retail and cruise industry. Harding has conducted more than 20,500 guest surveys on dozens of cruise ships over the past five years. “Adding that to the cruise line data that is being shared gives us some pretty powerful insights that we use to inform the retail proposition,” said Harding’s spokesperson.

With central hubs in Sydney, Australia; Bristol, UK; and Miami, Harding has expanded its presence to more than 20 different cruise lines around the world, including more than 100 cruise ships.

Under pressure

Carnival stock has been under pressure since the pandemic grounded cruise operations for months. On Tuesday, the stock languished below $10, driven in part by a July capital increase to address debt maturities in 2023. The company has a portfolio of nine leading cruise lines, including Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, P&O Cruises, Costa Cruises and Cunard.

On a positive note, the Miami-based trade association Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) forecast in April that passenger volume was expected to recover by the end of 2023, surpassing 2019 levels. Kelly Craighead, CLIA president and CEO, said: “As the industry resumes operations, volumes are expected to be 12% above pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2026.”

CLIA consumer research has also revealed the surprising finding that millennial cruisers are most excited about taking a new cruise, with 87% saying they will take one in the next few years, followed by Gen X at 85%.