Reflections on Seatrade: Part 3 – From St. Kitts to Senegal

Jon Ingleton concludes his series of articles on the event by focusing on its final two days

Reflections on Seatrade: Part 3 – From St. Kitts to Senegal
A panel of experts discussed what millennials are looking for when booking a cruise

By Jon Ingleton |

Every day would be brighter if it started with a wide smile from Ellison ‘Tommy’ Thompson, the effervescent CEO of St. Kitts Tourism. He kicked off day four of the event, Wednesday 29 March, with an update of St. Kitts ‘Venture Deeper’ campaign, launched in September 2023. “Venturing deeper into St. Kitts, and into our community, gives a much richer experience,” said Thompson. “We’re actively encouraging community tourism, which is environmentally friendly and both financially and socially sustainable. We’re supporting entrepreneurship and innovation within the community to support local wealth generation and reduce the leakage of dollars leaving St. Kitts.”

For Thompson, venturing deeper into the island supports community tourism, which spreads passenger spending more evenly around the island. And the island has a lot to offer, not least in visiting one of the only expanding rainforests in the world.

At the MSC Cruises USA press conference president Ruben Rodriguez announced that sales had opened for MSC World America, which will be sailing from Miami, Florida, in 2025. MSC World America will operate exclusively seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries from Miami.

MSC Cruises’ CEO Gianni Onorato provided a sense of what passengers can expect with MSC World America, saying it will offer: “European heritage and international character, appealing to people searching for curious travels – using holiday time to find enrichment. I love big ships because you can offer more. The ship has an innovative design that represents what MSC Cruises is: elegant, sophisticated and glamourous.”

A serendipitous encounter with Freddy Pereira, media and PR manager at PortMiami, was timed to perfection as the discussion topic moved on to the state-of-the-art MSC Cruises terminal at the port.

Designed by Arquitectonica, it will become the largest cruise terminal in North America and yet another fine facility for passengers heading out from the cruise capital. “PortMiami has been a fantastic partner for MSC Cruises,” said Rodriguez. “We have expanded the terminal project to three berths, which would not have happened without the great partnership with the port.”

It was a stroke of marketing genius when Azamara coined the phrase ‘Destination Immersion,’ but the brand made it real for their passengers with an immersive shore excursion offering. The sentiment of this message was reproduced by others seeking similar acclaim. While this concept remains central to the brand’s offer, the small-ship cruising specialist has a new campaign: ‘Change the Way You Sea.’

“We’re inviting our passengers to explore the world differently,” said Andrea Baigorria, global head of PR and communications at Azamara. “‘Change the Way You Sea’ is founded on the same principles as Destination Immersion – exploration on your own terms based on how you want to engage with a destination. Our guests are adventurers – looking for the tourism staples but going much deeper into the heart of a place. Arriving by sea to see things differently.”

Baigorria is rightly proud of Azamara’s passenger experience, and the company is fairly rewarded with a loyal fanbase and roundly good reviews. She is arguably right that “we look at the world through a different lens” and we should all seek the same positive perspective.

Singapore Tourism Board delegates were in a celebratory mood after the announcement that Disney Cruise Line will homeport in Singapore for a minimum of five years with the former Global Dream, which was acquired from Genting Hong Kong. The ship will be given a Disney-branded makeover at MV Werften and is expected to start operations in 2025. Disney is well-suited to the ‘Lion City’, a fantastical southeast Asia island nation with significant tourism appeal that demands to be reimagined.

Just a short stroll from the main Seatrade Cruise Global event space, attendees were able to participate in the inaugural F&B@Sea, which showcased 50 suppliers and a full programme of content, demonstrations and social events. The funky entrance to the show opened into a street-food styled set-up with a cleverly arranged stage and spacious networking zones. Not so long ago, the cruise industry was a niche community within the wider shipping industry. Nowadays, there are several vibrant sub-communities within the industry that warrant specialised events. Hence, events like F&B@Sea will grow and prosper in the years to come.

It was entirely unintentional that just as the hour turned into an appropriate time to accept an alcoholic drink, I spotted Christian Klimpke, global account manager cruises at Heineken. Of course, I accepted a cold glass of low-calorie Lagunitas Day Time – as the name suggests, it’s a jolly nice daytime tipple.

While propping up the Heineken bar, I was delighted to spot Dermot Davitt for the first time in more than 30 years, after our careers diverged when we both left Euromoney Publications. He has become the leading commentator on the duty-free and travel retail market as president and co-owner of the respected Moodie-Davitt Report. If you’re interested in these topics, I urge you to subscribe.

The series of cruise line CEO sessions on 29 March covered each of the luxury, river and expedition cruise markets – three categories that are all enjoying good growth.

Authentic elegance is the new standard for the luxury sector and Seabourn president Natalya Leahy and a panel of speakers explored how the category is evolving due to a generational change. The one constant in luxury cruising is the exemplary standard of service, offered by all of the panellist’s brands.

River cruise CEOs made a very good case for this vacation category. “There is literally something for everyone and they self-select to make river cruising their own,” said Cindy D’Aoust, president of American Queen Voyages.

Meanwhile, Andrea Zito, CEO of Swan Hellenic, set a sustainable goal for the expedition sector, and others, saying: “The only thing we leave behind is a footprint in the sand.”

Another highlight of the day was a conversation with itinerary planners that saw the cruise destinations along the St Lawrence River being afforded high praise, without any prompting. Fortuitously, and freshly fortified with Canadian awe, I bumped into Nancy Houley, director of sustainability for Cruise the St Lawrence, and happily shared my newly influenced reverence for her homeland.

The Meyer Group unveiled an intriguing concept ship for 2100, architecturally inspired by the rock penguin. The concept relies on innovations that will allow energy to be efficiently captured from waves, wind and the sun. The model on display was made largely from sustainable materials, 90 per cent of which are recycled or can be recycled, and it boasted a functioning methanol-powered fuel cell that lit the model and generated energy to charge phones and tablets.

Later in the day, poor personal wayfinding took me to Lemonlight founder Claudine Pohl’s social media session rather than the intended Wild Wonders session, but my error was rewarded with inspiration and insights from executives such as Nathalie Fernandez, social media director for Royal Caribbean International. “We believe that a life well-lived is a life well-adventured.”

Fernandez also clarified that when it comes to the brand’s social media partners, she is looking for something specific. “It’s not just about influence or number of followers, a big rule of thumb for us is whether you’re telling an authentic story.”

Foreship has become a reliable partner for operators seeking greater efficiencies. “New ship designs should always be a little bit better than the previous version,” said Markus Aarnio, CEO, Foreship. Oftentimes this is harder than you might expect, complicated by the endless promises made by innovative suppliers that are seemingly impossible to compare and contrast. Thankfully, “suppliers present their innovations to us and if we believe it to be true, we put it on our list,” said Aarnio, taking responsibility for critical filtering.

Nevertheless, occasional owners still seek irresponsible features, like stone floors that force weight inefficiencies or aft water sport decks that create expensive drag. The message is clear from Aarnio, “Don’t make stupid design decisions” for purely aesthetic or recreational reasons when better choices are available.

For current and future newbuilds Aarnio’s advice is clear: “Design flexibly for the future. For example, design the LNG tank to be strong enough to carry methanol.”

Only very occasionally it’s possible to acquire some of the accumulated wisdom from an industry expert. Aarnio’s recently published Cruise Ship Handbook is a must-read for industry enthusiasts and professionals, delivering an informed guide to many of the key principles of contemporary cruise ship building.

If you want to open and close, lift and drop or push and pull anywhere onboard a passenger ship, MacGregor will likely find the best solution. The North Star observation capsule on five of Royal Caribbean International’s ships and the Magic Carpet on Celebrity Cruises’ Edge-series vessels are just two examples of MacGregor’s unique capabilities.

“We often talk about our equipment as a product, but for cruise they’re really projects,” said Magnus Kellerman, sales manager at MacGregor. And while the team is often challenged by extraordinary concepts, he says: “We give peace of mind for the owner and yard – our equipment always works, and our team will keep it working throughout its service life.”

YSA Design CEO Anne Mari Gullikstad and chairman Jan Krefting were both in good spirits at the event. The Norwegian architecture and design specialists continue to deliver “utterly unique spaces” for their clients, forever “rethinking the cruise product.”

Likewise, Jacco van Overbeek, director of the maritime division at synthetic flooring company Bolidt continues to be motivated by important issues. “We’re very focused on our sustainability pathway. For us, the goal is to find a route to full circularity by 2030,” he said. Very likely this will require the company to set up equipment in refurbishment yards capable of finely grinding old decking and turning it into a base layer for the replacement deck. In the meantime, Van Overbeek said: “We will continue to seek improvements to the sustainability of our materials and the performance of our products.”

Philippe Vaquer, cybersecurity manager at Bureau Veritas, introduced delegates to the company’s new Cyber Health Analysis Report Tool (CHART). Designed to identify digital architecture vulnerabilities, CHART can deliver a thorough cyber resilience assessment on demand, enabling operators to audit, maintain and update systems to thwart evolving cyberthreats.

The day quietened for me in the relaxing company of Filippos Venetopoulos, CEO of Variety Cruises. While the big cruise brands understandably win more headlines, it’s important that we recognise the valuable role that smaller operators play in the industry. Variety Cruises is a perfect example, a smaller-scale best practice operation that many bigger brands could learn from.

The company doesn’t have the resources to keep renewing its fleet, but it does have the will and energy to stay up to date in every other area of its business. Corporate responsibility is a fundamental pillar of Venetopolous’s leadership approach. “We’re a family business that started in 1949, founded on a deep appreciation for both the communities that we visit and the passengers that we serve,” he said. Two examples include the Lamin Koto School Project the company founded in The Gambia, and the brand’s pioneering LGBTQ+ cruises.

It’s increasingly difficult to differentiate through itineraries in the cruise business, yet Variety Cruises has some gems including a West Africa voyage to The Gambia and Senegal, and a French Polynesian islands cruise that starts in Tahiti and has multiple stops in the Society Islands and the Tuamotu Islands.

Wellness is a feature of every voyage with Variety Cruises, “Our vision is to create a better world at sea for all,” said Ventopoulos, and it’s a mission that the brand is routinely delivering.

Day five: Thursday 30 March

Sustainability is thankfully a regular topic at industry events and so I was grateful to spend some time chatting with Sascha Gill, head of sustainability at Cruise Lines International Association. The association has rightly taken a leadership position championing the adoption of innovative solutions among member lines, with a particular focus to date on zero emissions and energy efficiencies.

Over the last year or so I have been actively engaged in pursuing more sustainable maritime interior practices and products with a group of likeminded interior designers and specifiers. Consequently, I was pleased to have the opportunity to share our progress with Gill and invite him to become an ambassador for Cruise & Ferry’s latest initiative, which he readily accepted, sharing great enthusiasm for our vision. We’ll be reporting on this project in the next issue of Cruise & Ferry Interiors, which will be published in June 2023.

Appropriately, my next stop was to say hello to Sonia Limbrick, head of cruise at Port of Dover. The port’s booth was arguably the most sustainable construction within the exhibition hall, underlining its sustainability ambitions. Seatrade Cruise Global has been particularly focused on encouraging companies to take a more sustainable approach to their exhibition presence and will likely use the Port of Dover as a case study in best practice.

Port Canaveral is similarly focused but perhaps its greatest contribution to sustainability is a happy accident of geography. David German, vice president of cruise market at the port, explained: “The port is especially well placed for no-fly cruises as it provides a huge passenger source market with easy access to the port by car and we have a massive parking capacity.”

Perhaps this is why so many new ships are homeporting in Canaveral, including Carnival Cruise Line’s Mardi Gras, Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Wish, Royal Caribbean International’s Wonder of the Seas, MSC Cruises’ MSC Seaside and Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Prima?

The early availability of LNG at the port is likely another key factor. “Captain Murray’s vision for the port in 2016 included getting LNG approved and available quickly to supply the next (now current) generation of cruise ships,” said German. That vision is now yielding significant dividends, with forecast growth in passenger movements up from 4.1 million in 2022 to 5.8 million in 2023.

“We’re able to provide a wonderful guest experience from arrival to boarding,” said German. “We’re really efficient at every phase of the process.” It’s a service level that has enticed yet another brand to Port Canaveral, with an announcement to come in the forthcoming weeks.

Thursday’s conference agenda had a very fresh feel, starting with a Puppy Yoga session. Sustainability-related topics and a focus on the younger generations followed, concluding with an uplifting session on ‘Millennials making Waves’, hosted by Claudine Pohl, founder of Lemonlight.

“We bring a different perspective, we’re more aware of our surroundings and we’re a bit more impulsive,” said Alexander Gumbs, CEO of Port St Maarten Group.

“Sustainability is what millennials want; we need to leave a good impression. There needs to be purpose and meaning,” added Emma Bond, global events manager for Seatrade Cruise, articulating what’s important to her generation and sharing a good lesson for us all.

News filtered through delegates from Oceania Cruises that the operator has reimagined Vista’s entertainment line-up, following previous announcements about elevated accommodation and new signature dining options. Headliners, The Anchor Inn and Into the Night onboard Vista, the first of Oceania’s two Allura-class newbuilds, are “pushing the limits on creativity and theatrics” said Kai Alan Carrier, director of artistic theatrical entertainment.

The Meyer Werft stand was busy again, this time in celebration of the keel laying and coin ceremony for Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Treasure at the German yard. The ship is the second of three 144,000gt, LNG-powered, Wish-class ships and is due for delivery in 2024.

Grand Bahama Shipyard, Lloyd Werft and Harland & Wolff all enjoyed a productive week, likely readying for busy times ahead as owners seek to catch up with Covid-enforced delays to refurbishment plans.

My effort to scoop some news from Telenor Maritime was fruitless – all I got was a wry smile and a promise that I’d only have to wait for a couple of weeks for the company’s official announcement. And a visit to the Port of Jamaica stand to catch-up with Kimberley Stiff, assistant vice president of marketing and communications, was similarly unsuccessful. Though the images did prompt many happy memories of good times spent in Jamaica!

As the week came to a close I was pleased to have the opportunity to spend a little time with Dauerflora’s Barbara Bressem and take a moment to remember head of marketing Nina Herrmann, who sadly passed away in February.

Happy memories were everywhere around the show floor in the very many ports and destinations that I’ve had the great pleasure to visit. Yet there were many thoughtful conversations that remembered those less fortunate than the more than 10,000 delegates present in Fort Lauderdale.

The pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the subsequent energy crisis have cost the industry billions of dollars and have caused far greater loss. This week proved once again that the cruise market is resilient as it continues to bounce back through delivering consistently incredible vacations. We all wish for a similar outcome for our friends and colleagues who were sadly absent at this year’s cruise extravaganza, and we sincerely hope to see them next time around.

Seatrade Cruise Global will head back to Miami Beach from 8-11 April 2024.

Read the first and second parts of the Reflections on Seatrade series.

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