»There is a growing interest in
exotic destinations offering an intense
experience of nature and wild life.«
Mr Natke, you have been travelling the world on cruise liners for 27 years. How has the cruise business changed over that period?
This sector has witnessed a phenomenal boom. There are well over 300 cruise liners around the world, and the biggest ones carry more than 6,000 passengers. The ships we thought were big twenty years ago now rank in the “small to medium-sized” category. Naturally, the places they can visit have changed too. Apart from the classical destinations in the Mediterranean, the Baltic, the Caribbean and Alaska, today’s cruise liners can be found along almost any coast in the world. But my role as captain has also changed. With new technologies like the latest navigation tools, I am more like a modern-day manager than a seaman on the bridge.
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises has ordered two more newbuilds for delivery by 2019. Why is this business so successful?
No two voyages are the same. In extreme waters, the weather and the ice call for flexibility and precision. We don’t stick to a predefined route. The point is to offer our passengers a unique experience. And that, of course, stimulates demand. The trend everywhere is towards more individuality and the quest for something special. Most of our passengers have already travelled a great deal and seen a lot, often aboard other cruise liners. So there is a growing interest in leaving the traditional routes behind and heading in small numbers for exotic destinations which offer that intense experience of nature and wild life. One big factor is the ambition to be among the first people to follow the route. There is a bit of the explorer in all of us!
Do you have any thoughts about how cruise tourism might develop in future?
I think the trend towards bigger and bigger vessels is coming to an end. We won’t be seeing more ships with over 6,000 passengers. Tomorrow’s passengers won’t be so interested in the well-set traditions of cruise holidays. They will be looking for the casual, relaxed lifestyle on board, and a chance to experience the natural world close up. I not only expect to see smaller ships with under 1,000 passengers plying the waves too in future, but also sailing boats and expedition craft. And in addition to the standard Mediterranean and Caribbean destinations, the less frequented routes will have their role to play.