Cruise executives believe the Americas are gaining strength, with the West Coast performing especially well. // © 2016 Princess Cruises
Feature image (above): The 3,284-passenger Explorer of the Seas will be the largest cruise ship to visit Alaska. // © 2016 Royal Caribbean International
With unease in the marketplace after the terrorist attacks in Europe, the Americas are showing considerable strength, according to cruise executives gathered at the Seatrade Cruise Global conference in Fort Lauderdale in mid-March. Apart from the coasts of South America, the news was all encouraging — from the Panama Canal and Mexico to Alaska and Canada/New England.
West Coast news was especially good, with Holland America Line (HAL) president Orlando Ashford discussing the company’s doubled presence in the Mexican Riviera this year. HAL is offering more departures — 13 seven-day itineraries out of San Diego that will call in Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, plus three sea days. These will be onboard a larger ship, the 1,916-passenger Westerdam, which will be deployed from October 2016 to February 2017. Conference speakers believed the Mexican Riviera, which has been through hard times, is now bouncing back.
Mark Conroy, managing director for the Americas for Silversea Cruises, pointed out that Baja expedition ships were still strong, even during a soft period in Mexico.
“I feel really sorry for the people in ground operations there; the media publicizes the bad things but not good things,” he said.
Ashford agreed that there needs to be balance between real and perceived threats.
“Nearly 600 people were murdered in Chicago last year, and people don’t stay away,” he said.
Princess Cruises president Jan Swartz reminded attendees that the line, which last year celebrated its 50th anniversary, is the biggest operator on the West Coast, with homeports from Los Angeles and San Francisco to Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia. She said the company is always working to provide wide variety of itineraries, including along the California coast, as well as in the Mexican Riviera, Hawaii and Alaska.
“We’re huge fans of the West Coast,” she said.
Asked whether his company will place a ship along the West Coast, Richard Sasso, president and CEO of MSC Cruises, pointed out that the company has expanded 800 percent in the last 10 years and will double in size during the next six.
“It just makes sense that we will be on the West Coast one day,” he said.
Panelists agreed that Alaska is doing very well this year. And the future looks bright: Executives are seeing higher rates in Alaska, rather than discounting, along with the growth.
Royal Caribbean International’s 3,284-passenger Explorer of the Seas will be the largest cruise ship ever in the destination, and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. and the Port of Seattle are in partnership, investing $30 million in Seattle’s Bell Street terminal. HAL, too, is launching new infrastructure, including the new Denali Square complex at the entrance to Denali National Park & Preserve.
Ashford noted that Alaska’s popularity attracts many people that are new to cruising. He added that, as ships get bigger, cruise lines must balance the patterns of port visitation and shore expeditions.
“We must make sure we plan for expansion and invest in the experience on land,” he said.
Conroy said CLIA plays a leading role in Alaska, as lines try to coordinate their departures and arrivals to avoid crowding during the short season.
“We compete, but we also work together on scheduling, to maintain strong relations with the locals and address environmental impact,” he said.
Looking to 2017, Conroy believes results in the region will be stronger.
In South America, MSC has reduced its ship numbers from five to three. Sasso commented that the decline there is economic, driven by Brazilian currency problems, and ships are down from 20 to 10 overall. However, he believes there will be recovery there during next two or three years.
Conroy noted that the Galapagos Islands and Antarctica are on everybody’s bucket lists, but the infrastructure doesn’t allow for huge expansion. He said that cruise lines are very careful about their ecological impact on Antarctica.
“You don’t ruin paradise,” he said. “It’s a place where you can’t make a mistake.”