Reflections on Seatrade: Part 1 – Welcome to Fort Lauderdale

CFR's Jon Ingleton looks back at some of the major insights and updates from the event

Reflections on Seatrade: Part 1 – Welcome to Fort Lauderdale
From left: CFR's executive editor Jon Ingleton with Joanne Wu, manager of cruise at Hong Kong Tourism Board

By Jon Ingleton |

Sustainability, shore power, new itinerary planning trends, and evolving food and beverage offerings were just some of the many topics delegates discussed at the 2023 edition of Seatrade Cruise Global, which took place in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at the end of March. This year, conference sessions and panel discussions were centred around a ‘Forward momentum’ theme, giving attendees the chance to hear valuable insights from key industry stakeholders. Delegates were also able to meet with more than 500 exhibitors on the show floor, attend various networking sessions and visit a new co-located event dedicated to food and beverage in the cruise industry. In a series of articles to be published over the next few days, Cruise & Ferry Review’s executive editor Jon Ingleton look backs at the key highlights of the event, starting with the opening two days:

Arriving early for Seatrade Cruise Global on Sunday 26 March, I was rewarded with a special treat from Holland America Line: an opportunity to hear from the company’s president Gus Antorcha onboard Nieuw Amsterdam. At 936 feet long and 86,700gt, Nieuw Amsterdam joined the fleet in 2010, can accommodate 2,100 passengers and is an elegant ship that is perhaps best known for offering great food, music and service.

“We make travel personal for our guests through expertly crafted itineraries, extraordinary service and genuine connections that create exceptional experiences, every time,” said Antorcha as he welcomed members of the press onboard. “We are in a sweet spot – big enough but not too big. We’ve got the right size ships for our deployment.”

Holland America Line is celebrating 75 years of cruising to Alaska in 2023. “We’ve been cruising to Alaska for longer than it’s been a state,” said Antorcha. The company is tending towards longer itineraries nowadays, including for its Caribbean cruises, allowing sailings to go deeper into the sea and reach some of the lesser-visited islands. The brand’s new ‘Legendary Voyages’ are an extension of this philosophy, offering guests the opportunity to enjoy 25- to 59-day roundtrip cruises.

The Culinary Council has been a big win for Holland America Line’s food and beverage offering, which was highlighted by Chef Ethan Stowell who shared culinary insights with the press as he whipped up a dish of salmon with shaved fennel, salsa verde and grapefruit.

Other highlights from the first day in Fort Lauderdale included David Selby, managing director of Travelyields, artfully steering the annual Scandinavian ports press briefing through an agenda full of imagination, sustainability and challenges.

While former Cruise Baltic and CruiseCopenhagn director Claus Bødker was greatly missed at the event after stepping down from his role, it was good to meet his successor, Klaus Bondam. He has a big job ahead of him in steering Cruise Baltic’s new strategy and reimagining the narrative for the Baltic Sea region. In an effort to win back some of the ships that have left the Baltic since St. Petersburg, Russia, was pulled from itineraries, the association is keen to emphasise the diversity of destinations and tell new stories to woo cruise line itinerary planners.

The availability of shore power continues to grow in the Baltic too, albeit slowly. Five ports are now able to offer the service in 2023: Rostock in Germany, Kristiansand in Norway; Aarhus in Denmark; Stockholm in Sweden; and Kiel in Germany. In addition, Denmark’s Port of Copenhagen and Norway’s Port of Oslo expect to have shore power available by 2025. Further up the Norwegian coast, Bergen and Ålesund already have shore power facilities and a total of 10 Norwegian ports are expected to have these capabilities by 2025.

Regulatory challenges in Norway threaten to completely derail the nation’s compelling contribution to cruising in Northern Europe. While well-intentioned, the impact of a trio of issues being debated could be catastrophic to Norway’s cruise business. They include a proposal for legislating Norwegian pay and benefits for crew onboard cruise ships sailing in Norway, a proposal for 500-750 capacity limits on cruise ships sailing along the Norwegian coast, and the ongoing proposal to limit access to the Unesco World Heritage fjord to ships with zero emissions.

These challenges gave good fodder for conversation at the Scandinavian VIP Reception that followed the press briefing. Hopefully good sense will prevail with more workable solutions to the current challenges.

Day two: Monday 28 March

The State of Global Tourism keynote set an optimistic tone for the future, in front of a full house. First, Russell Benford, vice president of government relations at Royal Caribbean Group, took a moment to remember the past. His sincere words of thanks for the support that both Royal Caribbean Group and other cruise brands received during the pandemic received genuinely warm applause.

During a varied session, Benford identified a pleasing post-pandemic trend across the Caribbean, saying: “I really love how so many of our [destination] partners are prioritising the economic empowerment of their local communities.” This type of action will really boost the sustainability performance of island tourism and must be supported by visiting cruise lines.

Additional sessions covered personalisation, marketing differentiation, homeporting, destination management and itinerary planning challenges, providing attendees with a full day of rich content from industry leaders. They were moderated by Roger Blum, Shannon McKee, Ioannis Bras and Tom Spina, all of whom are members of the Cruise Professional Advisors Alliance.

Martinique is pursuing both local economic prosperity and sustainability improvement while also boosting its cruising appeal. Géraldine Rome, head of cruise business development at Martinique Tourism, made a compelling case for adding the so-called ‘Island of Flowers’ to Caribbean itineraries. “Martinique is 16th on the New York Times list of the 52 Top Places to Go in 2023. We have six different options for cruise calls around the island, each giving easy access to our island culture and pristine nature.”

Uniquely, the whole island and surrounding marine ecosystem was designated as a Biosphere Reserve by Unesco in 2021 because it “presents a strong originality and an important richness of the terrestrial and marine environments.” In addition, according to Unesco: “Martinique has a cultural heritage of great richness, where the customs of multiple continents were combined to form its own traditions and culture.”

Meanwhile, Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) was keen to share that Hong Kong is firmly back in the cruise business after a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic. “We expect 160 ship calls by 16 cruise lines in 2023, a reflection of the trust and relationships that we have developed over the years,” said Kenneth Wong, general manager of MICE and cruise at HKTB, speaking at the tourism authority’s lunch reception.

HKTB is investing heavily in supporting the rebuilding of Hong Kong’s cruise business, providing financial incentives to help lines restart operations there. As Hong Kong is a big-name destination, its return to prominence on cruise itineraries is inevitable and this investment will be greatly appreciated by cruise brands.

On a day otherwise dominated by ports and destinations, a meeting with Thomas Huchatz, marine sales manager of MAN Energy Solutions, provided welcome news on a different topic. The company’s new flagship 49/60DF engine has received Type Approval following a gruelling week of testing by the big six classification societies.

The engine has six noteworthy selling points: it is four to six per cent more efficient than its predecessor (depending on engine load); it offers carbon emissions savings in proportion with efficiency gains and reduces methane emissions by 50 per cent (due to combustion improvements); the power output per cylinder is up to 1,300 kilowatts; the price per kilowatt remains competitive with the previous model; the modular design makes it easier to convert for alternative fuels, such as green methanol when it commercially viable; and its smaller size frees up approximately one metre of engine room space.

Monday at Seatrade concluded with the Cruise Europe reception in Waxy’s and Cruise Lines International Association’s Business on the Beach reception at the Marriott Harbor Beach Resort.

Part 2 of Reflections on Seatrade series will be published on 12 April

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