For the cruise industry, it’s been a challenging few years of sluggish spending and nervous regard of high-profile accidents at sea. But cruise execs are starting to feel good again, predicting a slight upturn in the number of people cruising this year.
“I think we’re cautiously optimistic,” says Christine Duffy, president and CEO of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the world’s largest cruise industry trade association. “From what we are hearing from the travel agent community and with the number of new ships that are being launched in 2014 and the improving economic conditions, we think we’ll continue to see growth in 2014.”
CLIA’s 2014 State of the Cruise Industry report, released in January, predicts a slight increase in the number of cruisers this year: from 21.3 million in 2013 to an expected 21.7 million this year. They’ll have plenty of new choices in their vacations, especially with all the new ships joining the global fleet; 12 cruise lines will launch 16 new vessels, spending a total $3.9 billion. The building boom will continue in 2015, with eight new ships totaling $4.1 billion.
River Cruising Takes Off
Half of the new ships are river cruise ships, an increasingly popular market segment.
“River cruising is the fastest-growing segment of the cruise industry,” Duffy says. “It’s quite popular for people who are avid cruisers already. We see the demographic for river cruises skew much more to the Boomers, who really like the idea of the ships…and the ability to walk on walk off each day into a different community on the river.”
Affinity Cruising: You’ll Be Back
State of the Cruise Industry also notes increased interest in “celebration” and affinity cruising: family reunions and theme cruising. “We think that’s a great way to attract first-time cruisers,” Duffy says. You may book your first cruise so you can sail with your favorite singer or celebrity chef, or to join other people who share your passion for a special topic or activity, and then you’re hooked. You’ll be back.
“We believe that’s a great way to get first-time cruisers on a ship who will come back with their own family and friends,” she says.
Luxuries—and Choices—for All
The other big trend this year is the broadening of choices in the luxury segment, not just on traditional luxury lines like Silversea Cruises and Crystal Cruises, but with the addition of luxury elements to the larger, mainstream lines. The “ship within a ship” upgrade, such as The Haven on Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC’s Yacht Club, lets passengers enjoy the intimate delights of a luxury space without losing the advantages of a big ship.
The greatest advantage of a large ship may be the broad range of experience it offers. “Even if we were both to go on the same ship,” Duffy says, “you may have a completely different experience than me because the range of options on a ship is so varied. So there are people who just want to go on deck and relax and read their book and watch, and there are people who take every shore excursion—maybe two a day—because they really want to see the different ports and the destinations, other people who want a lot of physical adventure, and others who get on for the entertainment and the nightlife. Even within a ship, the experience varies based on what you want to do, which is what makes cruising, I think, so unique from any other vacation experience.
“All the reasons we say, talk to a professional travel agent and be clear about what you’re looking for, because there is a cruise out there for everyone, but we want to make sure we get everyone on the right cruise for them.”
For more on CLIA, visit cruising.org.