Reflections on Seatrade Cruise Global: infrastructure updates, sustainability strategies and fleet expansions

In the first of a two-part series on Seatrade Cruise Global 2024, Jon Ingleton recalls some of the big news, highlights and events from the opening days of the show 

Reflections on Seatrade Cruise Global: infrastructure updates, sustainability strategies and fleet expansions

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By Jon Ingleton |

Sunday 7 April and Monday 8 April  

Press, port and itinerary planning executives were rewarded for an early arrival in Miami with a joint Cruise Baltic and Cruise Norway networking evening. 

“We’re friendly competitors and very close allies; we’ve created something quietly wonderful that echoes across the sea and we’re bound together by all of Europe’s history,” said Klaus Bondam, director of Cruise Baltic, talking about the special relationship between the two associations in his opening remarks. 

In Norway, the port of Flåm continues to explore environmental conditions to allow cruising in the Unesco World Heritage Fjord. The latest proposal is a carbon offsetting arrangement that requires cruise ships to carry sufficient biofuel to be able to transit the fjord but not necessarily use it during the sailing. Meanwhile, Norway’s Ministry of Climate and Environment is considering a proposal to install shore power in the port which, if approved, could be ready to use as soon as 2026. 

Meanwhile, the city centre remains the main attraction in Stavanger and the municipality has implemented measures to prevent it from becoming too crowded. The port now operates with a limit of 8,000 cruise passengers per day. In addition, it hosts a maximum of three ships per day, providing one of the vessels is carrying fewer than 600 passengers, and welcomes no more than seven ships per week.  

Cruise guests can also enjoy new shore excursions in Stavanger in 2024. For the first time ever, football enthusiasts have the chance to explore the roots of one of the world's most renowned players, Erling Braut Haaland. European Cruise Services worked with GuideCompaniet to develop the tour, which enables guests to explore Haaland’s hometown of Bryne by foot, taste some of his favourite foods and go on a guided tour of the stadium where he started his career. The tour is already proving popular – it was fully booked when P&O Cruises’ Iona had her first call in Stavanger last week. 

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Cruise guests visiting Stavanger can now tour the stadium where Manchester City striker Erling Braut Haaland began his football career

Elsewhere in Norway, Eidefjord is celebrating the completion of the dramatic step bridges, walkways and viewing platforms over the mighty Vøringsfossen. Now, cruise visitors can stand in the mist rising from the 182-metre-high waterfalls and listen to the noise that thunders down the valley to naturally amplify the spectacular views. 

Meanwhile in Finland, Helsinki is already planning a range of events and activities for cruise passengers in 2027, when it will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the 1952 Olympic Games being held in the city.  Stories will likely feature prominently in the events, and few are as compelling as athelete Emil Zátopek’s triple gold medal haul in the 5,000 metres, 10,000 metres and marathon – a feat that hasn’t been repeated. 

In Denmark, Bornholm is rapidly gaining recognition as the first green energy island and it’s a move that will interest cruise operators in the region who are all pursuing their own aggressive sustainability programmes. Energy Island Bornholm is aiming to bring energy security to Europe and provide a model for global energy island projects.  

Repeat passengers calling at Tallinn, Estonia, have a new tour option if they have already spent time in the city or taken the hero tour of Saaremaa. Rummu is a site that offers an unusual combination of visiting a waterpark and then taking a storied tour of an old prison. Rummu Quarry was worked by the inmates of Murru Prison and both have now become popular attractions, especially because they are located less than an hour from Tallinn. 

The port and destination conference sessions on Monday were well attended and the content quality lived up to expectations. Two quotes capture the essence of the day, one of which highlighted the current success of the cruise industry.  
“Cruise tourism is growing at a faster rate than global tourism," said David Selby, managing director of Travelyields Consulting. 

The other quote encapsulated the cruise industry’s drive to minimise the environmental impact of their operations and encourage destinations to meet passenger demand for sustainable tours. “How can we evolve the destination to lean into this sustainability message that we have onboard?" said Natasha Salzedo, director of itineraries and Destinations at Virgin Voyages.  

Hong Kong Tourist Board partnered with three prominent cruise destinations for its traditional Monday luncheon slot. Korea, the Philippines and Xiamen joined in this year to acknowledge the successful rebound of Asia’s destinations. The lunch started with a traditional lion dance, which Kenneth Wong, general manager MICE and cruise at Hong Kong Tourism, said was: “an important ritual for good luck and to drive away evil spirits, it brings joy and inspires courage and wisdom”.  We might expect other destinations to join this event in 2025 as Hong Kong continues its collaborative approach to driving cruise growth in Asia. 

Buoyed by the success of the South Pacific Cruise Forum, delegates from nine countries were at the South Pacific Cruise Alliance booth. With 1,100 calls in French Polynesia during 2023, the region is rightly proud of the performance of its cruise industry, and both new and ongoing investments in shore excursion development, terminals and infrastructure will aid its continued growth. 

French port Le Havre also showcased infrastructure developments, noting that works have started on the Pointe de Floride development project with the demolition of old hangers on the site. Three cruise terminals and shore power connections at each of three dedicated cruise berths will be completed by 2026. 

In addition, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings unveiled the biggest news of the week on the first day of the show! The company’s order for eight new ships and planned private island expansion  will be very welcome news for every industry stakeholder, cementing the view that the good times are back. All three brands in the group will work with Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri to construct new ship classes, each of which will become the biggest and most efficient vessels in their respective fleets. 

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Executives from Norwegian Cruise Lines Holdings and Fincantieri celebrate the company’s eight-ship order for its three cruise brands

Tuesday 9 April  

As always it was a full house for the State of the Global Cruise Industry keynote, this year artfully moderated by Anne Kalosh, editor of Seatrade Cruise News. The panel included Harry Sommer, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings; Jason Liberty, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean Group; Josh Weinstein, president and chief climate officer at Carnival Corporation; Kelly Craighead, president and CEO of Cruise Lines International Association, and Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of MSC Group’s cruise division. Weinstein’s new job title will give a big clue to the dominant topic, both for this keynote and for the industry at large. 

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Kelly Craighead, president of Cruise Lines International Association (right), discussed key industry challenges and opportunities with the leaders of the world's four biggest cruise companies during the keynote session

Multiple industry stakeholders shared updates and showcased solutions at the event, including YSA Design, which continues to stimulate fresh thinking and touted a new sail-powered catamaran cruise ship concept during the week.  
“It’s a concept that gets cruising closer to the water, encourages designing for the destination without dwarfing the communities that it visits and with a minimal footprint,” said Trond Sigurdsen, the company’s partner and head of sustainability and technology. The ship’s graceful lines, green methanol engines, sails, predicted low running costs and aesthetic appeal might just encourage an adventurous owner to invest in the concept. 

ABB discussed its Dynafin propulsion system, which was launched in 2023. “Dynafin aimed to copy what has evolved in nature by mimicking the movement of a whale [fluke] and it’s proved to be very efficient,” said Tuomo Salmi, global commercial manager at ABB.  
The company has worked with The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection to model Dynafin’s performance on one of its existing ships and the results are impressive. The study found significant hydrodynamic performance improvement with 12 per cent less propulsion power required, achieved a 40-tonne weight saving, and freed up over 90 cubic metres of space for alternative use. Salmi also anticipates a strong operational profile that will allow for longer service intervals to further reduce lifetime costs. 

Shore power retrofits have become a good source of new business for MacGregor with 15 projects now completed. The company’s maritime door and loading expertise makes it a natural partner and it has worked through a variety of different approaches to date, including doors with side or top single hinges, two hinged-leaf doors and vertical or horizontal sliding doors. MacGregor is now also fielding numerous enquiries for sustainable elevators that capture energy when they go down and can deploy the same approach for other onboard equipment that goes up and down.  

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Companies such as turnkey marine outfitting provider Almaco showcased their products and solutions on the exhibition floor

Scenic Group shared a fleet update at its press conference, highlighting the news that Emerald Kaia will join the Emerald Waterways fleet in 2026. “Kaia means ‘pure life of the sea’; it’s a next-generation vessel that will allow guests to experience the sea like never before,” said Ken Muscat, managing director of Scenic Group USA. The group also confirmed its plan to give 18 of its river cruise ships (in both the Scenic and Emerald Cruises brands) a thorough design update intended to align them with the yachts in the fleet. 

American Cruise Lines will introduce two more new small ships into the fleet in 2025. To be built by Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Maryland, USA, the two 125-passenger sister ships will be the fifth and sixth in the company’s series of 12 Project Blue vessels for the US market. American Patriot will begin sailing in June, while American Pioneer will debut in November, and both will operate a host of exclusive itineraries up and down the US East Coast. 

Vago led the MSC Cruises press conference alongside Laurent Castaing, director general of Chantiers de L’Atlantique, to mark construction milestones for two World-class ships.  
“MSC World America floated out last week in Saint-Nazaire and one year from today we’ll have her inaugurated here in Miami, sailing to Ocean Cay,” said Vago. “But the real news to share today is that we’ve cut steel on World Class 3 and now she needs a proper identity.”  

MSC World Asia is expected to begin sailing Asian itineraries in 2026. Castaing promised environmental improvements including multi-fuel engines and the latest heat-recovery systems. 

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MSC Cruises’ executive chairman Pierfrancesco Vago (second from right) and Chantiers de l’Atlantique’s director general Laurent Castaing (right) mark construction milestones for MSC Cruises’ two new World-class ships

Daniel Schaefer, president of Sea Cloud Cruises, hosted a press conference with the company’s two US leaders, president Mirell Reyes and vice president of sales Kevin Smith. Together, they gave a brand update and generated some excitement within the US market about the romance of cruising on a traditional square rigger. “The Sea Cloud experience is steeped in luxury and sustainability, and this really resonates with our passengers,” said Schaefer. 

A full room greeted Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line, as she arrived to announce the name of the retail portal at Celebration Key, the company’s new exclusive island destination on Grand Bahama. “Lokono Cove will be a treasure trove – a place for our guests to immerse themselves in the spirit of The Bahamas and find locally-inspired keepsakes, symbols of paradise,” said Duffy. 

Vice Admiral Bill Burke, now an external affairs advisor for Carnival Corporation, presented the highlights of the group’s latest sustainability report, including the news that 64 per cent of the fleet can now connect to shore power. “We want to honour the integrity of the places that we visit as well as the lives we touch,” said Burke while explaining the motivation for Carnival Corporation’s sustainability actions. Future fuels are still the key topic and Burke explained that the US Department of Energy anticipated that the timeline for good e-fuel supply in the USA is two decades away. Commenting on the likelihood of getting to net zero by 2035 Burke said: “one thing is possible and another thing is normal – we’re rooting for bio-methanol as soon as possible.” 

Cruise line itinerary planners also gathered at the 14th Planner’s Lunch at the Botanical Gardens. This time, the cherished occasion was hosted by the Port Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. “The port has been a long-time friend of cruise travel and they’ve become a formidable destination,” said Timothy Littley, vice president of strategic planning and port operations at Four Seasons Yachts. It was a pleasure to be in the company of “the greatest thinkers in the industry” (Littley’s tribute to the many creative planners in attendance). 

Representatives at the Cruise Lines International Association booth were busy answering questions about the organisation’s newly released State of the Cruise Industry Report. Most notably, cruise travel has grown by seven per cent on 2019 numbers, significantly outperforming overall international tourism arrivals, which are 12 per cent lower than 2019. As we expected, the industry has officially bounced back! 

Figen Ayan, president of MedCruise, announced that the Mediterranean is the world’s second largest cruise market as she presented the latest Trends in the Med report. Consistent with other regions, the Mediterranean Sea has now topped 2019 numbers – growing passenger volumes by 6.59 per cent and cruise calls by 7.91 per cent. 

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MedCruise president Figen Ayan (centre) shared the findings of the association’s latest Trends in the Med report with attendees

The Port of Galveston in Texas, USA, continues to win new homeporting business, with 16 ships sailing out of Galveston from November 2024 and Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Treasure set to join them in December. Continued growth requires investment, and the port has a well-conceived master plan that includes opening the new Cruise Terminal 16, a multi-use terminal complex in late 2025. Other ongoing projects include traffic management best practices, on-site terminal parking and rethinking the management of provisioning trucks. 

Each of the three major newbuild shipyards demonstrated a strong commitment to sustainability during the week. Fincantieri’s main contribution to proceedings was ‘The Path Towards A Digital Green Ship’ session, which featured a panel that included Edoardo Rixi, Italian Deputy Minister of Infrastructure and Transport, and Pierroberto Folgiero, CEO and managing director of Fincantieri. “International Maritime Organization set a net zero target of 2050. Our goal is to be better than that,” said Folgiero, as he repeated the company’s 2035 ambition for building its first fully emission-free cruise ship. 

The second day ended with the 18th Porthole party hosted by Bill Panoff and the event sponsors. A reported record attendance celebrated all of the industry’s many good news stories by dancing through the night at M2. 

Read Part II of the ‘Reflections on Seatrade Cruise Global’ series.  

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