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Copyright © 1995-2005 
Linda Coffman


Seatrade 2005

What's not to like about a convention that kicks off with a laser light show, inspirational music, and fireworks? 

Held annually, Seatrade in Miami Beach, Florida is a cruise ship lover's dream. Exhibitors vying for attention run the gamut from representatives of exotic destinations to suppliers of food and equipment. If it goes into or on a ship, or if a ship goes there, you're likely to find it at Seatrade.

State of the Industry Debate
Sparks usually begin to fly at the first morning session... during the State of the Industry Debate. This year I had to keep pinching myself to insure I wasn't dreaming. Instead of a "debate" I thought I'd wandered onto the set of "The Love Boat." Participants Bob Dickinson (Carnival Cruise Lines President & CEO), Howard Frank (Carnival Corporation Vice Chairman & COO), Richard Sasso (MSC Cruises President & CEO), Colin Veitch (Norwegian Cruise Line President & CEO), and Jack Williams (Royal Caribbean President & COO) had much more to agree upon than to debate.

In an intro by Andy Stuart and Terry Dale (Cruise Lines International Association Chairman and President & CEO, respectively), spirits were buoyed throughout the room. They reported a stronger than ever cruise industry in the past year: demand still exceeds capacity; a 9.8% increase in growth; 104% occupancy rate; and 10.5 million passengers sailed in 2004. It is estimated that 11 million will sail in 2005. 

In a more good news vein, passengers whose expectations are higher than ever will discover more choice when they begin their quest for a dream cruise vacation. The only industry slowdown expected is the number of new ships being launched in 2005 and 2006. The building boom of recent years is past, but new ship contracting has once again picked up, indicating optimism throughout the cruise industry.

When the cruise line executives took their places on stage, discussion began about the continuing "recovery" in the industry since 9/11. Cruises have been a strong segment in travel leisure, but have they fully recovered?

Colin Veitch reported that business is good and they are able to deliver a better product than ever, but (there's always a but!) fare prices are not where they should be. Jack Williams agreed that he is bullish on a return to pre-9/11 prices; Richard Sasso stated they are presently only at a 50% level of what they should be. Fares are not expected to double overnight; however, it will be important to modify passenger expectations and make product improvements to achieve higher levels. 

Anyone who has priced a cruise vacation lately is already aware that prices are creeping up and new ships in particular are commanding higher fares than in the past several years.

Bob Dickinson always offers interesting comments and reminded everyone that even when bookings are high, neither consumers or travel agents should assume that everything is sold out, even at the last minute. As gatekeepers for the industry, travel agents should check and double-check as a service to their clients. Dickinson also observed that cruises have been selling for less than 25 years ago and the product is superior.

With the US Dollar at a low point against the Euro, new ship building has slowed but not stopped. Norwegian Cruise Line has new ships on order and will continue to replenish the fleet and achieve product consistency as they retire older vessels. No announcements have yet been made for Celebrity Cruises, but Jack Williams indicated the brand will grow and a new series of ships is on the drawing board. Likewise, Richard Sasso stated that MSC Cruises is eyeing growth in the Caribbean and will introduce a third ship in the region in 2006. That same US Dollar to Euro ratio makes cruise travel in Europe less expensive for Americans, so all news is not gloomy.

What about the increasing size of ships? When pressed to comment on Carnival Cruise Lines' rumored Pinnacle Project, Bob Dickinson responded discussion on the topic is, "premature at this point." Pressed further about a possible new ship that will exceed 160,000 tons, he again said it is "premature to speculate on that." It might be safe to assume that he is simply being modest.

Many industry-watchers are awaiting the Supreme Court decision on whether cruise lines must comply with the United States' Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This has never been a case about whether cruise ships are accessible, opined Colin Veitch. Instead, it is about whether the law should apply to ships registered under foreign flags. It is likely that cruise lines will continue to comply, even if they are not required to do so. Veitch pointed out that they have been doing so all along to attract travelers with special needs--a growing segment of the traveling public in general who find a cruise an easy way to travel. In fact, Veitch stated cruise lines go further to accommodate them than do land resorts.

Overall, the State of the Industry is good and getting better... about that, there is no debate.

For more information and to find out how you can attend in 2006, see
 the Seatrade Cruise Shipping Convention website