For cruise industry, the best of times is now

For cruise industry, the best of times is now

FORT LAUDERDALE – Cruise company CEOs acknowledged that
times are very good at the Seatrade Cruise Global trade show on Tuesday, searching in vain to find much to complain about in

“Business is strong. Let’s keep it going,”
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio told State of the Industry panel moderator Peter
Greenberg. “If this were Christmas and you were Santa Claus, I would ask
for nothing.”

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. chairman Richard Fain said that
the industry needs to take the lead in fighting the perception that some
destinations have become overcrowded. Even though cruise ships are a small part
of the problem, he said, they have an outsized profile and can be a target.

“What we’re really talking about is more sustainable
tourism,” Fain said, citing RCCL’s 2011 opening of a port in Falmouth,
Jamaica, as an alternative to busy ports in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. “We’ve
ended up with more people but less density.”

Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald said the cruise lines met
with the mayor of Dubrovnik, Croatia, after the city’s UNESCO heritage status
became threatened by overcrowding there. “We all met at his request and
coordinated our schedules,” Donald said, so that cruise arrivals would be

All the CEOs agreed that another key to keeping growth going
in the cruise industry was to remain hyper-responsive to guest demands.

Tom McAlpin, president and CEO of Virgin Voyages, said the
line initially thought it would build two 4,500-passenger ships for its debut
in 2020, but downsized them to 2,800 passengers after getting feedback from
prospective cruisers. “Guests were concerned with scale,” he said.

“Being passionate about the guest experience is key to
what both of us are doing,” said Douglas Prothero, CEO of the Ritz-Carlton
Yacht Collection.

Another key to fueling further expansion is coming up with
new destinations, or improving old ones. MSC Cruises executive chairman
Pierfrancecso Vago cited that challenge in China, where MSC and others have
plenty of potential customers but a relative shortage of close-in destinations
to visit.

Vago suggested that the industry work with China to drop
cabotage rules that restrict foreign-flagged ships from carrying passengers
from one domestic port to another. 

“China would have a much bigger boom If you have that
capability because there are not many other countries to visit in the China
region,” Vago said.  “If you
could go along the coast, it would be an incredible opportunity.”

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