Takeaways from Seatrade’s State of the Global Cruise Industry

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Top cruise line executives, cruise industry insiders and anyone with a pulse on the cruise industry, including destinations and ports, have been meeting this week in Fort Lauderdale for Seatrade Cruise Global.

The show was kicked off with the State of the Global Cruise Industry, which featured two panels with key cruise line executives, as well as an outside research analyst that provided key data about the cruise industry.

Takeaways? There were many, but we’ve gathered some of the highlights so you, too, if you weren’t able to make it out there, can have your pulse on this highly lucrative market.

In a survey conducted by MMGY Global, whose findings were released during the State of the Global Cruise Industry by Peter Yesawich, vice chairman, MMGY Global, one of the key data that you’ll want to embrace is that out of the 2,832 people surveyed—ages 18 and over—48 percent of the respondents were interested in taking a cruise in the next two years (responses took place in 2015); that’s up 2 percent from 2013, when 46 percent of respondents said they were interested in taking a cruise in the next two years. One of the highlights was celebration vacations—65 percent of respondents said they would go on a celebration vacation, with the two most important life events being milestone anniversaries and birthdays (anything divisible by five, so the 50th birthday, or 25th anniversary, etc.).

Of those surveyed, 24 percent of respondents had used the service of a traditional travel agent in the last 12 months, with 27 percent saying that they would use the service of a travel agent in the next 12 months. Most importantly, 70 percent said that a travel agent was influential in the selection of the cruise line. Interestingly enough, and this is where you need to work your magic, only 18 percent of respondents said that they believe they get the best prices for cruises from a travel agent. And when asked what non-traditional distributor of travel services from which they would most likely book if available, 43 percent said Amazon.

Keep this in mind—even with all the cruise offerings out in the marketplace, this same survey revealed that only 11 percent of U.S. leisure travelers had taken a cruise in the last 12 months. What does that mean for you? Even though the cruise line industry welcomed 23 million passengers in 2015—that’s worldwide—with 24 million travelers expected to cruise this year, there’s still plenty of potential clients, including those very important first-time cruisers, for you to hand-deliver a dream vacation. And in terms of product, there’s a dizzying array of offerings suited for every taste and budget.

In fact, during the panel discussion moderated by Peter Greenberg, travel editor for CBS, participants
 Frank Del Rio, president & CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd;
 Arnold Donald, president & CEO, Carnival Corporation;
 Richard Fain, chairman & CEO, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd; and 
Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman, MSC Cruises, highlighted that the cruise line industry continues to innovate and bring a wealth of diverse product to market.

When asked what his idea of innovation was, Royal Caribbean’s Fain said, “Innovation is bringing great ideas to life,” and Carnival Corporation’s Donald, pointed out that “to be innovative, you have to think outside the box. It’s all about the experiences—a deep emotional experience. We have to exceed guest expectations.” MSC’s Vago jumped in to say “innovation doesn’t have to be about size; you can be innovative big, or small. It’s an experience you can’t have at home.”

And although Royal Caribbean is known for its onboard innovations, Fain stressed that “although you want wonderful experiences on board, the purpose of cruising is still to get somewhere.” That said, he did say that guests do want options and a “fun variety of activities.”

“Our biggest problem is that people have such a wrong impression about cruising,” Fain pointed out. And that’s where you come in, the executives said, because the bulk of reservations are through travel agents. “They bring our product to market in a variety of ways,” said Norwegian’s Del Rio, with Fain adding that “we are lucky to have them.”