When it comes to trade shows and conventions, this is a topic that most people who work or have worked for a living know something about. Images of huge booth-filled convention halls, lectures with keynote speakers, panels of experts, meetings, parties and more are part of most of them. The cruise industry has their version too. It too has booths, lectures, meetings and parties, the lion’s share of which bring little usable information for consumers. Still, some underlying themes and specific comments by speakers at the event’s keynote presentation could serve as a harbinger for what we will see the next time we cruise.
Cruise Shipping Miami, now in its 30th year, draws thousands of attendees connected to the cruise industry in one way or another. Arguably the most important event of the conference is a ‘state of the cruise industry” panel that features the heads of a number of cruise lines, all there with frank comments about trending issues.
In recent years, the focus of that panel has been dominated by bad news. The Costa Concordiagrounding in 2012, the Carnival Triumph ‘poop cruise’ in 2013 along with assortednorovirus outbreaks, mechanical failures, reports of crime on ships and more have cast an air of apprehension over the cruise industry for travelers who had never been to sea.
This year, the title of that event was updated to be The State Of The Global Cruise Industry, and rightfully so. Cruise lines worldwide have come together as never before, instituting safety and security precautions over and above what might be viewed as appropriate, usual and customary in any other business.
“It’s an industry that attracts an enormous amount of attention, especially when things are bad,” said Norwegian Cruise Line’s CEO and president Kevin Sheehan. Indeed, when a great big cruise ship comes to town, it’s hard not to notice. Just ask residents of Charleston, South Carolina, many of whom are deeply concerned that ships spoil the historic city’s skyline. It was Charleston business owners (who embraced the substantial economic impact of cruise ships) vs local residents (who did not want thousands of visitors deposited all at once) for quite some time. Now, positive moves by those on the side of the cruise lines are turning that situation around. Soon, it may be back to business as usual for Charleston and the cruise business.
In much the same way, the global cruise industry has come to the table armed to please and move beyond the negative. But while the tone of this global state of the industry event may have been business as usual, what that means has changed and should be of particular interest to cruise travelers.
A great amount of time during the nearly two-hour panel was devoted to getting cruise travel back to growing as fast as cruise lines can build ships.
“The trick here is to really communicate to the new-to-cruise, because that’s where the action is” for future business, said Arnold W. Donald, president and chief executive of Carnival Corporation. It’s a view obviously shared by other major cruise lines who continued to differentiate themselves from one another, even at a time when addressing press-generated concern might have dominated what they do.
If we think back a decade, to a time when it seemed that the cruise industry could do no wrong, growth was indeed rabidly robust and demand far exceeded capacity. Today, the tables have turned a bit bringing consumers all time low fares in what should be the best ever environment to try a cruise vacation for the first time.
Looking To The Bright Future
Ten years ago, it seemed like major cruise lines were moving toward a central experience. Travel agents working with clients to choose a Caribbean cruise vacation often recommended finding one that fit their schedule and budget; which cruise line it was did not matter all that much.
Today, offerings are diverse and more than ever and there truly is a cruise for everyone. This is something we talked about before and believed it to be true. The reality of today’s forward-looking cruise industry is a huge diversity in what can be experienced, on ships better equipped to exceed our expectations.
Looking forward to the future, if the cruise industry wanted the message taken away from the State of the Global Cruise Industry to be “We have handled crisis, learned from the unanticipated, have systems entwined in what we do to insure safe travel, now give us a try”, they nailed it here.
It was an assurance that should encourage seasoned cruise travelers to get back up on their soapbox and preach the good news about the remarkable value of a cruise vacation. Those on the sidelines, the first timers cruise lines will be fighting for, there has never been a better time to try cruise travel.