Reflections on Seatrade: Part 2 – State of the global cruise industry

Jon Ingleton looks back on the highlights of the Tuesday sessions at Seatrade Cruise Global

Reflections on Seatrade: Part 2 – State of the global cruise industry
Marcus Hogblom of ABB Marine (left) and Jon Ingleton (right)

By Jon Ingleton |

Tuesday opened with the State of the Global Cruise Industry conference session. “This is an important year for cruising as we return to the scale we had achieved before the pandemic and begin moving forward with greater purpose,” said Pierfrancesco Vago, global chair of Cruise Lines International Association, and executive chairman of MSC Cruises, ahead of the session.

This year marked the final appearance of Norwegian Cruise Lines Holdings’ president and CEO Frank Del Rio, who typically joins Vago and the leaders of both Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean Group as a headliner of the annual State of the Industry session. Del Rio follows Royal Caribbean Group’s former chairman and CEO Richard Fain and Carnival Corporation’s president and CEO Arnold Donald into happy retirement and, like them, he leaves our beloved industry very much richer through his significant contributions.

The Explora Journeys press conference further fuelled my appreciation for the luxury brand founded by MSC Cruises. To date, I love everything from the brand identity to the service promise, ship architecture and interiors, itineraries and destination experiences, and the people.

Explora Journeys’ CEO Michael Ungerer and head of itinerary planning and shore experience Sacha Rougier provided further updates in Fort Lauderdale “We want to be the brand that pulls you in rather than pushes you in,” said Ungerer. Meanwhile, Rougier shared the brand’s vision for getting into the “soul of a destination”, highlighting the newly released Destination Experiences. It was great to see head of product Jason Gelineau again too. All three executives are outstanding ambassadors for Explora Journeys; their only remaining challenge is to finally deliver the exceedingly high standards they have promised to guests when the first ship debuts in July 2023.

Explora Journeys has also announced itineraries that feature Colombian calls, becoming one of several operators to plan visits to the country in the next few years. Hence, ProColombia is reporting good growth in cruise tourism with 173,000 passengers recorded in 2022 and bigger numbers forecast for 2023 and beyond. AmaWaterways, for example, will boost the total in 2024 as the company prepares to launch sailings on the Magdalena River.

ABB Marine continues to set the standard in electrification and as the industry pursues zero-emissions cruising, few companies are quite so well-placed to prosper in the years ahead. In fact, it’s small wonder that Lisbon’s new emission-free commuter ferry is equipped with ABB’s power solution.

Few technologies have been as transformational as ABB’s Azipod electric propulsion system – it has been a market leader since it was introduced 30 years ago. The product’s dominance means that the industry’s expectations are unsurprisingly high for ABB Marine’s new propulsion solution. “It’s going to be a market-mover, a real game changer,” said Marcus Högblom, head of passenger ship global sales at ABB Marine. The company will share more news about “tomorrow’s technology, today” at the end of May or early June.

Methanol has become the new frontrunner in the race to find new fuels for the post-LNG era. Wärtsilä and Royal Caribbean Group announced that the fifth of Celebrity Cruises’ Edge-class ships will be equipped with two converted Wärtsilä 46F engines to allow them to use methanol as a third fuel when the vessel is delivered in 2025.

My next stop was the Planner’s Lunch, which was first conceived by Timothy Littley and is now managed by a committee. For many years, the lunch has been a special private occasion for the cruise line professionals who are responsible for delivering incredible itineraries and shore experiences. Littley, who is now vice president of Four Seasons Yachts, gave the welcoming address this year, saying: “I consider all of you to be masters of travel happiness. Some might say it’s the best job in the industry. Some might be correct!” I’m inclined to agree on both counts.

Meanwhile, at the Cunard press conference, vice president of international development and planning Matt Gleaves and PR director Jackie Chase shared business highlights from 2022 and the year ahead. Cunard’s reported numbers are very encouraging: a 64 per cent rise in bookings versus this time in 2019 (the last comparable year) and a 33 per cent increase in passenger volume. Perhaps most surprisingly, 60 per cent of passengers booked in for a 2023 cruise are new to Cunard – suggesting that the brand is winning favour with a younger demographic than in the past. In another notable update, Gleaves shared that: “Queen Anne is about one year away from arriving. Having four ships will allow us to spend a little longer in destinations.”

American Cruise Lines announced its longest-ever domestic itinerary starting in August 2024. The 60-day adventure cruises along four major rivers and through 20 states. Meanwhile, newly formed charter river operator Transcend Cruises, revealed that it will start European river cruise operations earlier than expected in August 2023.

During the European CEO Panel, Ponant’s Herve Gastinel reaffirmed the important point made by Russell Benford, vice president of government relations at Royal Caribbean Group, during the State of Global Tourism keynote on Monday 26 March. “How can we enrich the visit for guests in a way that works for local communities as well?” he asked. Finding the best solution to this question will make a significant contribution to the economic sustainability of cruise operations around the world.

The day concluded for me with a double celebration for Anglo-Eastern. It started with a press conference where the brand shared details of its acquisition of Cruise Management International (and associated companies) and marked the debut of Anglo-Eastern Cruise Management and Anglo-Eastern Leisure Management.

When news of the acquisition first filtered through in 2022, my instant reaction wasn’t entirely positive. I’m a big fan of CMI Leisure’s president Dietmar Wertanzl – he’s an inspiring hospitality leader and visionary, and all of my opinions about hotel operations and service delivery come from him (either first-hand or by reading his thoughts). I’m uneasy with change, especially to a good thing. But when we met in Fort Lauderdale, his obvious pride and easy smile reassured me that this was a good move for his company and, more importantly, his clients too.

“We can now tie into different resources and receive support on a global scale, and with the cruise industry set to pick up as the appetite for travel continues to grow, the timing couldn’t be better. Joining forces is a win-win,” said Wertanzl. As he seamlessly takes the reigns of Anglo-Eastern Leisure Management, the future is bright for everyone concerned.

Anglo-Eastern are now the custodians of this respected business. “We do things properly,” said Bjorn Hojgaard, CEO of Anglo-Eastern.

Part two of the Anglo-Eastern event was at the pier at GalleryONE, onboard MV Caprice. Despite the downpour, it was a beautiful celebration of a new venture – and it provided a very welcome opportunity to catch up with Andreas Ullrich, global market leader for passenger ships at Bureau Veritas.

Read the first article in the Reflections on Seatrade series.

The third and final part will be published on Thursday 13 April.


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