Yesterday, during the general session for CLIA’s Cruise360 conference, taking place in Fort Lauderdale, travel advisors and cruise line presidents showed optimism about the future of travel.
“If the recent past has taught consumers nothing else, it has taught them that to do it alone, making travel plans, is to be alone when those plans don’t go to plan,” said Charles Sylvia, v.p., industry and trade relations for CLIA, during the general session. “As travel advisors, we have the knowledge, relationships and an understanding on how this business works that no consumer can ever possess and that no Internet connection could ever provide. The renaissance of the travel advisor profession has begun.”
Cruising & Fort Lauderdale
Before the pandemic, Fort Lauderdale saw almost 4 million cruise passengers a year, said Stacy Ritter, president of Visit Lauderdale. And now, in 2022, she pointed out, pent-up desire and demand for travel is strong, particularly for cruise.
Ritter noted that Port Everglades is now the “Happiest Port on Earth,” as Lamar Fisher, vice mayor for Broward County, shared that Disney Cruise Line will become Disney’s second year-round homeport starting in 2023. And in 2025, a second Disney ship will be joining Port Everglades’ fleet, meaning one ship will be there year-round and another sailing seasonally.
For travel advisors booking clients in Fort Lauderdale pre- or post-cruise, a new travel advisor learning platform, Lauderdale Loyalist, was recently launched, she added. The site includes loads of information, photos and videos to show advisors what there’s to see and do in Fort Lauderdale and help you increase hotel room stays before or after a cruise.
Another cruise line coming to Port Everglades is The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection. This summer Celebrity Equinox and Celebrity Infinity as well as Allure of the Seas will sail from Port Everglades, and Princess Cruises and Holland America Line will winter at Port Everglades. Additionally, Wonder of the Seas recently made its debut at Port Everglades. Plus, Royal Caribbean’s Odyssey of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas will return in the fall and Azamara will be sailing from the port in 2024.
Ritter reported that though they’re unsure they’ll have the “over-the-top summer they had last year,” they expect domestic visitations to remain high, especially with four ships sailing from Port Everglades. She added that, “demand remains high” and it has not yet been impacted by inflation and gas prices. She noted that people’s priorities have shifted and they are now taking time to travel, experiencing many places and things, and sharing those experiences with loved ones is becoming a top priority. She added that Visit Lauderdale’s tourism slogan is “everyone under the sun” and that Fort Lauderdale is known as the LGBT capital of the state and welcomes everyone under the sun to enjoy the area.
Cruise Execs Discuss the Future of Cruising While Overcoming Hurdles
As the panel of cruise presidents began speaking about current trends and hurdles, Michelle Fee, CEO of Cruise Planners, shared that the CDC had just lifted the warning against cruise travel. This announcement caused an uproar of cheers from the travel advisor community in the room.
When asked how he feels about the current cruising industry, Harry Sommer, president and CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line, said, “I’m encouraged; it’s been a long two years and over the course there were low points and no high points, but we are starting to see ships coming back in the water. If things continue how they are now, I see a road to normalcy by the summer.”
Then, Fee asked when can advisors can start to remove words like “CDC protocols, testing and masking” from their conversations with clients. “It’s not going to be fast enough, but it is coming,” said Michael Bailey, president and CEO, Royal Caribbean. “I think there are bigger changes coming for travel in the coming months. Some countries like the UK have removed all protocols—no testing, no masking, and what I’ve heard from families in the UK is that the environment is much more liberating.”
The rise in gas prices now might be a new hurdle for some travelers. As Fee puts it, “higher gas prices, is less money in the consumer wallet.” Ruben Rodriguez, president, MSC Cruises, said, “Clearly we are concerned—that’s discretionary spending for consumers. But our clients are eager to get out there. What’s great about cruising is that we offer such great value and if there is ever a time for great value it’s now.” Adding that, “It’s an opportunity to bring those who are new to cruise—many of which have stayed away. I’m optimistic, but it is challenging.”
Another current circumstance is the current war between Ukraine and Russia, with cruise ships canceling or re-routing sailings to the affected areas. John Padgett, president, Princess Cruises, said, “Princess is a world cruise line so it’s not surprising we have to constantly adjust to geo-political situations. We dropped St. Petersburg from routes.” He added that communication is key and advisors play an important role in communicating these changes and updates to their clients. “From my perspective, that’s what advisors are all about. From a Princess standpoint, we couldn’t do what we do if it wasn’t for the travel advisors making that happen,” he added.
Fee mentioned that most of the cruise lines have now dropped the mask mandates. But asked, when do they foresee testing being dropped for people coming from outside the U.S.
Rodriguez added, “I think things are getting better. But there are a number of trade-offs. What some of these protection layers like the mask mandate and vaccination layers enable is a better life on board. We are releasing the mask mandate and social distancing on board. We are making it very much what it was before the pandemic.”
Bailey adds that he’s fairly optimistic. Saying that, “All of this is going to fall on what we see with the actual COVID positive rates in different regions. When the CDC believes it’s moving from pandemic to endemic, when it really poses no risk, that’s when we’ll start to see government removing these testing styles. I think we’ll see that probably by the summer—that’s me being hopeful, it’s not based on any facts. We are going in such a positive direction, I can’t think it’ll go for much longer.”
Now, when discussing the future of travel, Sommer added, “I think across the industry we have amazing ships that provide great experiences for our guests. But guests are always looking to do more—have more authentic experiences, better experiences, a more personalized experience. In the future I see ships that cater to those demands—more options for dining, more options for activity, better service and guest-to-crew ratio, more space. Everyone wants to feel like that cruise was just for them.” He also adds a focus on environment and sustainability as well, as things that guests will look more for in the future.
New Trends Discussed at Cruise 360
“I think one trend we’ve all seen is our guests, our customers, have a lot of money to spend. Onboard spend is at record levels across all different revenue streams,” says Bailey. “Our customers have a lot of savings, they’ve got wealth, they’re looking for opportunities to explore, adventure, enjoy with their families.”
Sommer added that a trend he’s seen is customers buying multiple vacations. “Quick rebook is absolutely a trend since COVID,” he says. “Every guest I’ve spoken to has multiple cruises booked.” He adds that 60 percent of guests on board are booking their next cruise while on board, which he adds is fully commissionable to the advisor who originally booked that guest. “Multiple vacations, a quick re-book is absolutely a new trend.”
Rodriguez adds that they’re seeing “more demand, a little farther out, but closer in than we are used to historically. We are starting to see a little further out planning, as well.”
For more information on CLIA, visit cruising.org.