MIAMI – First-time cruisers, cruise pricing and media coverage were on the minds of top cruise CEOs at the 30th annual Cruise Shipping Miami conference this week.
Executives on the keynote panel painted a rosy picture of the "State of the Global Cruise Industry." The event, formerly called Seatrade, is one of the world's largest industry conference. It was estimated to draw 14,000 attendees this year.
"We are a great industry. We are a happy industry. We provide great vacations for people. That's what we do," said Carnival Corp. chairman and CEO Arnold Donald, in his first appearance on an executive panel.
Where the action is
That positive picture, however, didn’t stop the executives from examining major issues facing the industry.
Its biggest challenge is attracting first-time cruisers, according to Donald.
"The opportunity for all of us is to attract the new-to-cruise, to emote what cruising really is," Donald said. "That's where the action is."
Young cruisers are part of that equation, the executives said.
"Your children are going to get you to take a cruise, and I think that's part of the reason the industry keeps growing," said Royal Caribbean chairman and CEO Richard Fain, adding that kid cruisers become adult cruisers.
"Someone who has taken a cruise is five times as likely to take their next cruise," Fain said.
Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of MSC Cruises, said social media is one key to attracting new cruisers. "Cruisers want to see the experience through social media websites," he said.
The executives also addressed the media’s coverage of incidents such as the Carnival Triumph fire and norovirus.
"The industry needs to find a way to put a positive spin to news stories and better communicate that it is safe to cruise," said Donald.
"Today if somebody has a backed-up commode in a cabin, they can YouTube it.”
A higher standard?
Fain identified a different source of the problem. "The truth is the cruise industry is held to a higher standard, partially because it is so interesting," he said.
Kevin Sheehan, CEO and president of Norwegian Cruise Line referred to the power of public opinion.
"At the end of the day we are ruled by public opinion. It's never good to be on the defensive all the time," he said.
"We need to have a period of time of stability from the news standpoint, and once we do, the industry will thrive."
It’s important for cruise lines to keep cruisers from getting bored, to "stay relevant" with new products and destinations, Sheehan added.
The pricing challenge
Raising cruise fares is another cruise line priority, Sheehan said.
Cruise vacations are " a ridiculously strong value, which is good for the consumer, but at the end of the day we don't want it to be quite as good a value.
"There's been no real pricing (increases) in this industry for 20 years," Sheehan pointed out.
"We're more cost-effective than visiting your relatives and probably more fun," joked Donald.
A nod to agents
The new Carnival Corp. CEO gave a shout-out to travel professionals.
"We have to wow our guests, and the reality is every guest doesn't belong on every brand and every ship. The challenge is to match that passenger to the right ship," Donald said.
"The travel professional is key to that,” he said.