There’s nothing like the annual Seatrade Cruise Shipping
Convention to remind everyone that cruising is first and foremost,
a business a huge business. And, this year’s gathering of cruise
line owners, suppliers and operators at the Miami Beach Convention
Center March 15-17 was a testament to the industry’s explosive
growth in recent years. In contrast to the first Seatrade event in
1985, which was attended by 150 people, this year’s convention
attracted over 9,000 participants from more than 100 countries, as
well as more than 200 worldwide media outlets.
The main themes of the convention were trends, projected growth
and current challenges facing the cruise industry. The opening
day’s State of the Industry panel was a standing room-only event,
in which cruise line executives gave an overview of their
respective companies, answered questions from the audience and took
a few good-natured digs at each other.
The cruise line executives, as well as industry analysts who
spoke during the convention, predicted that annual growth in the
industry will cool down from its unusually strong average of 12
percent in recent years. That’s not to say, however, that anyone
was less than bullish about the prospects for the industry. All
agreed that Asia’s potential as a destination, as well as source
market, is downright mind-boggling. And, Carnival Cruise Lines
President and CEO Bob Dickinson emphasized that cruises remain a
bargain, compared to similar land-based vacations. In fact, even
though cruise prices will probably rise across the industry,
they’re still a better value today than they were a quarter-century
ago, said Dickinson.
The industry is facing some unique challenges right now, such as
the high cost of oil, and the persistently weak American dollar.
But, that hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm about improving existing
fleets. Though there is nothing on the drawing board that compares
to the record-breaking 68 new ships that came on line between 2000
and 2005, new ships continue to make big news.
“We have the challenge of replenishing our fleet and taking out
our old ships,” said Norwegian Cruise Line president and CEO, Colin
“When stocks are cheap, you back up the truck and buy. But when
stocks are expensive, you don’t stop buying,” Veitch said, when
asked about the higher shipbuilding prices engendered by the weak
Veitch proudly pointed out that NCL will launch two innovative
new builds this year, Pride of America and Norwegian Jewell. He
touted the “New NCL,” with “seven big, modern ships” that will make
its fleet the youngest in the industry.
Royal Caribbean’s president and COO Jack Williams (a few days
before announcing his departure) indicated that the Celebrity fleet
will grow, but gave no details. And, of course, bookings have
already opened for Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas, which
will be the largest ship in the world when it debuts in the spring
of 2006. The line recently signed a letter of intent for its third
158,000-ton, 3,600-passenger Freedom Class ship.
Only Carnival’s Dickinson was a bit coy about future expansion
plans. When asked about the reported “Pinnacle project,” class of
ships, he demurred, saying that it was “premature” to make any
announcement at this time.
Various Seatrade panels discussed new and exciting shore
excursions, passenger amenities and technology, all of which are
key to attracting new passengers, said CLIA president, Terry
Cruise lines have shrewdly realized that today’s consumer wants
to pack as much as possible into their limited leisure time, said
Dale. That means the range of shore excursions and onboard
activities will continue grow, with more lines offering special
interest classes, such as cooking, yoga, and arts instruction.
“The variety is crucial in these days of multi-generational
cruising,” said Dale.
Other Seatrade highlights included a performance by the Second
City comedy troupe, now performing on the Norwegian Dawn. And,
curious attendees (and skeptical cruise line executives) listened
to a pitch from London-based “serial entrepreneur” Stelios,
chairman of easyGroup, which operates the easyJet discount airline
in Europe. Stelios plans to launch easyCruise in May, a no frills
Mediterranean cruise that allows passengers to board or depart at
any stop along the way, provided they stay at least two nights
aboard easyCruiseone, the refurbished former Renaissance 2.
The easyCruise product will be sold primarily online, although
Stelios indicates that he is considering a special travel-agent