Carry on: Cruising’s biggest season, Asia budget alliance and more

Travel industry news also includes Virgin Australia's new international business class cabin and route news of the week. With special feature audio.

Mega-cruiser to sail in New Zealand waters 
The annual cruise season is over and the lines are boasting of the increasing contribution to the economy in both passenger numbers and spending. One line, Royal Caribbean, has just launched the world’s largest cruise ship, Harmony of the Seas, in Europe. This mega-cruiser's dimensions are mind-boggling: more than a third of a kilometre long (361m), 70m high and a gross tonnage of 227,000. It has 23 swimming pools, 20 restaurants, a bionic bar where robots prepare drinks and a living park. Its crew and passengers (6780) total 10,000. The first voyage will be a four-day cruise from Southampton to Rotterdam leaving on May 22.

Harmony’s slightly smaller sister ship, Ovation of the Seas, also has a bionic bar among many other features. It will be the largest cruise ship to sail in New Zealand waters when it arrives in Dunedin on December 23. Demand has been so great that it will have an extended stay here until leaving for Singapore on February 20, 2017. It will join five other ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet, Explorer of the Seas, Legend of the Seas, Radiance of the Seas, Celebrity Solstice and Azamara Quest, its boutique luxury brand.

Cruising customers are rising in double figures each year and the company says its bookings for all ships are already well ahead of last year. The industry  says it contributed $543 million to the economy in the 2015-16 season with an estimated 267,800 passengers landing here.

Budget airlines form alliance
About 10 budget airlines are planning to form an Asian alliance. The initiative includes major carriers ANA (Japan) and Singapore Airlines, who both have budget subsidiaries, as well as Cebu Pacific Air (the Philippines). The proposed alliance is seeking other members. The airlines will distribute the money they collect based on passenger volume and will consider introducing conveniences such as "through baggage" check-ins for flights on more than one airline.

Virgin unveils The Business
Air New Zealand partner Virgin Australia has unveiled its new international business class cabin on refitted Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. The first is flying every alternate day between Sydney and Los Angeles. The new cabins, called The Business, will be on all five B777s in its fleet by the third quarter of 2016, including routes between Brisbane and Los Angeles as well as Sydney and Abu Dhabi.

The cabin is laid out in a 1-2-1 configuration, giving all aisle access, featuring 37 individual and private suites that convert into the length of a queen size bed. The seats are identical to those on Virgin’s domestic Airbus A330 services and the cabin has its own tendered bar with lounge-style seating. Virgin has also updated its premium economy cabin comprising 24 seats.

Upgrades for KrisFlyer members
Members of Singapore Airlines' KrisFlyer loyalty programme will be able to redeem their miles for travel in premium economy class from May 24. They will also be able to use their miles for upgrades from economy to premium economy or from premium economy to business class from June 1. Premium economy class is now available on refitted B777-300ER flights between Singapore and Auckland.

Route news of the week
Air New Zealand is moving its weekly Auckland-Rarotonga-Los Angeles service from Sundays to Saturdays, starting on November 6. This means the Rarotonga to Los Angeles service will move from Saturdays to Fridays. The aircraft will be upgraded to a Boeing 777-200ER from a B767 from December 3. AirAsia X plans to expand its Kuala Lumpur-Gold Coast operation, which now comprises a daily transtasman leg to Auckland. Four extra weekly terminator flights will operate from July 1. This will bring overall frequency from seven to 11 times weekly using Airbus A330-300 aircraft. Jetstar’s Australian domestic airline will launch a direct Adelaide-Sunshine Coast flight from September 30. These will be the only direct flights between the two airports and will operate three times a week. The Sunshine Coast will also be Jetstar’s fourth direct Queensland destination from Adelaide, the others being Brisbane, Cairns and the Gold Coast. Qatar Airways has added Armenia to its global network with a four-times weekly Doha-Yerevan service. Yerevan is the cultural, political and industrial capital of Armenia. It is one of the world’s oldest cities and offers a backdrop of the snow-capped Caucasus mountain range. It is situated on the Hrazdan River.

Tune into NBR Radio’s Sunday Business with Andrew Patterson on Sunday morning, for analysis and feature-length interviews.