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Seatrade 2007: What Can You Learn from Cruise Line Presidents, Part II

Returning to where we started (see Part I), we revisit some poignant, insightful and downright fascinating points that were made on the panel, Seatrade's opening event, and that got lost amidst more serious stuff. Here's a roundup of what we thought you should hear:

Major kudos to Royal Caribbean's Richard Fain for pointing this out: Did you know that people who are physically disabled have shown, in surveys, a higher proclivity to travel than the American population as a whole? He noted that 54 million Americans are defined as disabled -- that's a huge group with major buying power, and cruise lines should take notice, Fain said. Freedom of the Seas -- the biggest cruise ship ever -- is actually fully chartered by a group of hearing impaired consumers.

Carnival's Bob Dickinson had an equally insightful moment when he told the assembled throng that it's just "a question of time" for gay and lesbian travelers to develop their own ship or line. "It's a market," he said, "that would appreciate a specific environment." He was not, however, prognosticating that Carnival would be developing the project ....

All the panelists agreed that the American "mature" market (including baby boomers) doesn't need their own 50-plus and no kids kind of cruise line. It wouldn't be popular, said Celebrity's Dan Hanrahan, "because you'd eliminate so many people. Creating something so narrow wouldn't be successful." Hmmmm. Tell that to the Brits! While not mega lines with mega-sized ships, companies like Saga Holidays and Fred. Olsen are doing quite well with the 50-plus niche; even P&O is introducing adult-only ships. And I'll tell you this: On my cruise last week aboard Seabourn Legend, part of a U.S.-based line that appeals to an older demographic in most cases, the passengers were atwitter (not always in a good way) about a family with four young kids that was sailing on the cruise. To their credit, these children were beautifully behaved. But they didn't fit. And you could feel it.

Europe's growth is accelerating at a rate faster than the embrace of cruising by Americans ever did. Demand is increasing massively with Europeans and Brits, and U.S. lines are competing with European cruise companies to capture the market. In fact, it wasn't so long ago that European cruise lines operated with our cast-offs; now they're getting new ships same as we do. Most recent case in point: Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas, which launches next year, will be based initially in Southampton. Brilliance of the Seas will sail year-round from Barcelona. And Carnival Splendor, when it launches in 2008, will spend its maiden season in the Baltic.

Speaking of Europe, the fact that more cruise ships are sailing there year round (heading south to places like the Canary Islands when the weather's frosty in the upper Mediterranean) is going to give the Caribbean some competition next year. Travelers now really have another cold weather season option. And it's a bit more exotic for most folks. "The Mediterranean," Carnival's Dickinson said, "is the Caribbean of 10 years ago."

The opening of Cuba: "We all know this is coming," says Dickinson. Which is true; it's no secret. But when it does, it will offer a tsunami of change in Caribbean itineraries.

Did you know that one of the most potent attractions for cruise virgins is to take a theme cruise? One panelist bandied about the stat that 50 percent of theme cruise participants would never have tried a cruise had it not been for the theme.

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