At every Seatrade gathering, the highlight of the week falls on Tuesday morning, when a handful of cruising's grand poobahs -- i.e. cruise line presidents -- serve on a panel to discuss the state of the industry.
In short? The state is very, very good. The theater facility at the Miami Beach Convention Center was packed to the gills with way more attendees than seats (and I can remember, just two years ago, when you had no trouble finding a place to sit down).
Obviously, cruising's booming and attendees are here from every corner of the world. Folks representing destinations from Singapore to St. Kitt's, and those hoping to sell cruise line systems and furnishings from Europe are just two of the categories (check out our trade show report; it'll launch tomorrow).
Participants on the panel were Carnival's Bob Dickinson, Royal Caribbean's Richard Fain, Holland America's Stein Kruse, MSC USA's Rick Sasso, NCL's Colin Veitch and Celebrity's Dan Hanrahan. Interestingly, the panel featured no one from Princess, no one from a European line (well, Sasso half-counted but he represents the U.S. portion of a European company), and … no women (Cunard's Carol Marlow and Seabourn's Pam Conover could have fit the bill).
Some of the most interesting stuff, oddly enough, came from longtime panel moderator Chris Hayman, who provided an overall picture of the cruise industry. Stop snoring! It's fun!
Remember when, a few years back, the cruise lines were all saying "Woe is me, we can't order new ships from European shipyards because of the euro's dominance over the dollar?" That was when, ironically enough, the conversion rate was 1.15 euro to the dollar. Today, dozens of new ship orders later, the, ahem, conversion rate is now 1.32 to the dollar. "The orders," he said, "came anyway."
They sure did: At this point there are 35 new-build orders on the books. All but three out of the entire 35 are from the "Big Four": Carnival Corp., Royal Caribbean/Celebrity; NCL and MSC. That means that in 2010 these four companies will represent more than 90 percent of all cruise capacity.
Here's one that won't have you passing out in shock, but it's worth mentioning nevertheless: Ships continue to get bigger. What's rather astounding is how much bigger they've gotten. In 1998 for instance, 35 new ships were also on the order books. These represented 60,000 berths. This year? Same number of ships -- but the berths are 90,000. It's a ratio much helped, no doubt by the next contender for biggest ship ever. Can you guess who it is?
Send your guess to us at email@example.com, subject line: Win a free T-shirt, and the first correct respondent wins the prize (send us your size and mailing address too, please).
Here's something you probably don't know. Out of the 35 new ships currently on order, almost half (17) are being built and designed for the European market. Prior to recent years, Europe's cruise travelers almost always sailed on less contemporary, second-hand models discarded by North American lines. You can pretty much say goodbye to that trend, at least in the mass-market sector.
Destination wise, Europe's the hot ticket for now. Whether you live there and are starting to cruise, or you're from the U.S. and wanting to sail there is, one panelist chimed in later that Europe is the equivalent of the Caribbean a decade ago. In other words, 10 years ago the Caribbean was the bee's knees as a cruise region. Now … people have pretty much been there and done that.
--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, EditorPhoto by Andy Newman/Seatrade Convention