(12 p.m. EDT) -- The cruise industry gathered once again in Fort Lauderdale for the annual Seatrade Cruise Global conference, where the successful restart of cruise and the continued progress of the industry -- particularly around sustainability and what customers want -- were top of mind.
The third conference held since the dramatic shutdown of cruise following the global health pandemic, cruise lines, suppliers, stakeholders, and representatives from ports of call around the world piled into a third-floor hall at the Fort Lauderdale Convention Center to discuss the state of the cruise industry -- and the big takeaway was that cruise is poised to have its best year since 2019.
"The attention to cruise is now higher than it was around the pandemic," said CLIA global chair and MSC Cruises executive chairman Pierfrancesco Vago. "Eighty-five percent of those who have cruised in the past will likely cruise again."
"Among those who have never cruised before, the number who say they're interested is bigger than it was back in 2019.
"Our model works. The current results speak for themselves."
In a new feature for Seatrade, cruise executives from Carnival Corporation, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Royal Caribbean Group and MSC Cruises took questions sourced directly from Cruise Critic's own members and message boards.
"What is your vision for the future of cruising?," asked Cruise Critic Member notscb. "Is it mega-ship style family vacations, or is it smaller, more intimate experiences where passengers are able to explore different areas?"
"We have distinct brands for distinct reasons," said Josh Weinstein, president, CEO and chief climate officer with Carnival Corporation plc. "I will never mistake my cruise on Carnival Celebration for a Seabourn expedition ship because they're two different things. We've got something for everyone."
"You have a unique product in the American market: the opportunity to experience a bit of the style of European cruising. How do you plan to continue to differentiate your uniqueness among other US brands?" asked Cruise Critic Member shipgeeks.
"We adapt and fine-tune the product wherever we operate," replied MSC's Pierfrancesco Vago. "It will be an international brand, and international experience. This is why we don't compete with each other. Every brand offers a different experience."
Cruise Critic Member bgoff60 asked, "It seems like there’s a lot of emphasis on younger cruise activities for Icon of the Seas -- are you working to redefine your target demographic for this class of ship?"
"As we introduced the Icon class, it really is focused on multigenerational travel, which is what Royal is known for," said Liberty. "We're introducing new neighbourhoods onboard that will appeal to cruisers of all ages."
On Norwegian Spirit's recent sweeping refurbishment, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings' top boss Frank Del Rio responded to Cruise Critic member fshagan, who asked, "The recent refurbishment of the Norwegian Spirit was fantastic, and plussed the adult areas with a large H2O area, eliminating the kids’ splash zone area. While it’s not strictly 'adults only,' I’m thinking that families will gravitate to the ships with play areas, water slides, etc. Do you see that as a trend, especially for the smaller ships that can’t compete with race tracks and water slides?”"
"Remember that people go on cruises for lots of reasons," said Del Rio. "The primary reason is: where are we going? I think you'll see the smaller vessels go on longer itineraries to more exotic destinations. Everyone's focused on the newest, shiniest toys, and we forget we have mid-age vessels that still make a lot of money.
"I think you'll see, as the world continues to open up, these mid-sized vessels perhaps in their teens and twenties go on these more exotic longer itineraries."
With the global restart of cruise primarily complete, cruise executives were focused on returning to the business of cruising: innovating, fine-tuning the guest experience, and remaining committed to growing and expanding cruise's reach.
"It's once again focusing on the guest," said Weinstein. "Focusing on the experience of cruising. It's remarkable, it's amazing…but it's all about making an amazing holiday for our guests and their loved ones. And we do it really well."
For outgoing NCLH boss Frank Del Rio, focusing on passengers -- and the price in which they can get onboard -- was top of mind.
"Our prices, compared to land-based vacations, are low -- too low," said Del Rio. "And over the last three years, that gap has increased. We're lagging behind. Why is that? Maybe we haven't focused enough on what product we're delivering. The cruise industry has not kept up with the demand that consumers want because the land-based vacations are eating our lunch."
For the second year in a row, sustainability was a key watchword for cruise line executives, who all agreed that while they compete on vessels and amenities, they will not compete -- or compromise -- on safety and continued environmental progress.
"2023 will also deliver the youngest, cleanest and most technologically-advanced fleet ever," said Vago. "We must address community perception in sensitive destinations. If we don't, misinformation will distort what we stand for."
"Our path ahead is far from easy," said Vago. "Yet our commitment is clear: we will achieve net zero by 2050 because we must. We are not only sailing to a better future, we are sailing to a better world."
"We offer the best vacation there is today," concluded Vago. "This is the model for cruising."