At the cruise industry's largest annual gathering this week, top cruise line executives praised travel agents for their “instrumental” role in reassuring the public that cruising is safe.
They also addressed the elephant in the room – safety.
The "State of the Industry" forum at Cruise Shipping Miami is typically a venue for rosy optimism and bragging. But not in this year of the Costa Concordia disaster – in which more than 25 people died and another seven are presumed dead.
Concordia’s impact addressed
"Safety is our highest priority. It is absolutely essential to our business and there is nothing more important," said Christine Duffy, president of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and moderator of the panel. "As everyone here is acutely aware, the Concordia incident has had a profound impact on all of us."
CLIA Chair Howard Frank, vice chairman and COO of Carnival Corp., which owns Costa, said in a solemn speech that as a cruise executive "there is nothing more heart wrenching then the loss of your passengers and crew members."
Frank said "what went wrong" with the Concordia would be carefully examined, noting the accident has already led to changes in muster drill policies by CLIA's 26 cruise line members.
"When accidents occur, it is important we work together as an industry and learn from them," Frank said.
Resilient industry will bounce back
While the Concordia incident has caused a slowdown in bookings, particularly in Europe, Frank said he did not think the industry impact would be long-term.
"We have faced similar impacts in the past and in each case we have shown enormous resiliency in bouncing back," he said.
Travel agents thanked for cruise advocacy
Travel agents were instrumental in reassuring the public after the Concordia accident, top executives said during a panel of cruise line presidents.
"In the last couple of months travel agents have very much demonstrated their value to the cruise industry. They've been great advocates for the industry. It's great to have a third party speaking on your behalf," said Gerry Cahill, president and CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines.
Agents have become more invested in seeing the cruise business succeed, Adam Goldstein, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean, said. "They really have a sense of common endeavor with us.”
"Travel agents are the lifeblood (of the cruise industry) and will be the lifeblood for many, many years," said Kevin Sheehan, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line.
Agent acknowledgement appreciated
While there were only a few agents in the audience, Vicky Garcia, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Cruise Planners/American Express, told Travel Market Report after the session that it was great to hear the acknowledgement.
"The industry stayed quiet too long because they are mostly publically owned companies and can't talk, so we (agents) were the ones to get the safety message out," she said. "I think they were saying if this happened and it was just us (cruise lines) how would we get the message out?"
Tool kits for agents will be introduced at CLIA’s upcoming Cruise3Sixty agent gathering in May to help them better communicate on the topic of safety with customers, Duffy told Travel Market Report.
Deep discounts not coming
There was another more subtle message from the industry executives during the panel: don't expect a wave of disaster discounts.
Surveys show that consumers are waiting to get better discounts, Duffy said. "They've been waiting and that isn't happening."