Attracting first-timers who’ve never sailed before continues to be one of the key challenges of the cruise industry, according to executives of the world’s four largest cruise corporations at Cruise Shipping Miami. The 30th edition of the industry’s premier event, held March 11-13 at the Miami Beach Convention Center, brought together thousands of industry executives and the vendors, suppliers, media and others who work with them.
The opening session, “The State of the Global Cruise Industry,” was moderated by BBC World News America anchor Katty Kay, who led the discussion by:
- Arnold Donald, president and CEO of Carnival Corporation & plc
- Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.
- Kevin Sheehan, CEO and president of Norwegian Cruise Line
- Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of MSC Cruises
All four cheerfully discussed the growth of their industry, which has been showing steady increase in passenger numbers: from 21.3 million in 2013 to an expected 21.7 million in 2014, according to Christine Duffy, president and CEO of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), who preceded the session with an overview of the industry. Among her more impressive statistics: During the 2014/2015 season, 24 new ships will set sail, adding 38,000 beds.
“I still believe that for this industry, the best is yet to come,” Duffy said.
The cruise execs agreed, and wrestled with the problem of getting “new to cruise” travelers to set sail. It’s most often solved by word-of-mouth advertising, Fain said
“The truth is,” he said, “the reason people take their first cruise is because their friends tell them to.”
Kay steered the conversation to the headline-grabbing accidents that the industry has wrestled with, from the tragic deaths aboard Costa Concordia in 2012 to the days-long disabling of Carnival Triumph in 2013. The executives pointed out that the high-profile incidents raised attention precisely because such problems are so rare, and noted that cruising is one of the world’s most closely inspected industries.
“We just need to have a period of stability from a news perspective,” Sheehan said, “and get back to business running this business the way we’ve been doing it for the last 45 years.”
The executives also suggested that simple lack of knowledge is keeping people from taking their first cruise. “The real key here is telling people that cruising is not what they think it is,” Fain said. And Donald said travel professionals are the key to making sure every cruise passenger has the experience they desire — an outcome that’s made more challenging by the diversity of the crease experience.
“The reality is,” he said, “every guest does not belong on every ship. The travel professional is key in that. What is the right shop for the right guest and the right experience?”