Costa Cruises’ UK office is focusing its marketing into unusual destinations in an effort to reach 22,000 passengers by the end of the year, up from 14,000 in 2006.

Managing director Marco Rosa admitted it is pointless for Costa, owned by Carnival but based in Italy, to chase the same markets as well-known brands. The UK is only the fifth-largest source market for the cruiseline, after Italy, France, Germany and Spain.

Rosa said: “The Caribbean works well for the Italians, but it should not be the focus of our UK marketing. Likewise, competition in the Mediterranean in summer is too strong, we are too expensive, and head office won’t let me lower prices.

“I want to concentrate on spring and autumn, on the October half-term. The Mediterranean is very pleasant then, there is little competition and it is good value because children cruise free.”

Rosa expects Costa’s new destinations to attract the British. These include Middle East cruises from Dubai, started this winter with one ship but increasing to two next year, cruises from Hong Kong, launched last year originally just for the Chinese market, and Indian Ocean cruises from Mauritius, starting in 2008.

Rosa said: “I expect more bookings for the Hong Kong cruises from the UK than from Italy, not because it is Costa, but because it is something different.”

The Hong Kong cruises vary from 15 to 17 nights and visit Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore, and there are five-day itineraries that will also be sold to the Chinese market.

“Italy is starting to see the UK is not a cheap market and that we can build the brand here. I tried consumer marketing last year and it was OK, but 97% of bookings come from agents so money will be spent on the trade.”