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In a good humored but unexpectedly animated keynote session at Cruise Shipping Miami, executives made it clear that consumer perception and media coverage are serious issues impacting the industry.
The keynote event featured four panelists, representing the four biggest players: Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC Cruises. And, with a moderator from outside the industry — Katty Kay, anchorwoman for BBC World News America — discussion topics focused on representing the industry correctly in terms of contribution in taxes and economic impact, multi-layered industry regulation and proactive moves to go beyond what is mandated in terms of safety and the environment.
“The biggest myth — no, it's a lie, because the facts are all out there — is that the industry isn't regulated,” said Richard Fain, CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.
Fain sketched out all the levels and types of regulation that affect cruising, calling it the most regulated business he knows.
“Almost every week, there is someone auditing performance,” he added. “We’re held to a higher standard.”
Kevin Sheehan, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line, agreed.
“At the end of the day, we are ruled by public opinion,” Sheehan said.
The panelists added that a positive perception of the industry is particularly important in attracting first-time cruisers, who are vital to building demand and exceeding passenger capacity in order to raise pricing. Sheehan said there has been no real price increase in this industry in 20 years.
“We don’t want to be quite as good of a value,” Sheehan added. “We deserve a higher price.”
Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of MSC Cruises, said cruising has been resilient in Europe because “ships move”. With zero economic growth, the industry still grew four percent.
Arnold Donald, president and CEO of Carnival Corp. & plc., said cruising during a recession is “more cost effective than visiting your relatives.” He added that qualifying the customer to the right cruise line and the right ship is crucial, and that the travel agent is the key.
Fain noted that people who have taken a cruise are five times as likely to go on a cruise as people who have never experienced a cruise. The real key to attracting new customers is explaining that cruising is not what they think it is. He added that features like a rock wall, which is used by only a small percentage of cruisers, help to break the misconception that cruising is sedentary. Fain also said that cruising has been able to keep its brand distinction and resist the process of homogenization, offering a variety of experiences for different tastes.
In successive sessions, a record number of attendees — exceeding the 1,100 expected —examined safety, river cruising, itinerary development, shipyards and ship design, refurbishment, marketing and sales, onboard entertainment and segments from family cruising to the upscale market.
New this year, travel agents attending the 30th Cruise Shipping Miami were offered complimentary access to the trade show with nearly 900 exhibitors from more than 120 countries, along with a special reception and two training sessions. Daniel Read, director of the event portfolio for UBM Live, which produces the show, remarked that the majority of cruises are sold by travel agents and that it is in the best interest of the cruise industry to have well-informed cruise sellers.
Another first for Cruise Shipping Miami was a series of State of the Industry panels that separately examined the Americas, Europe and the Asia/Pacific region, emphasizing the global nature of cruising.