Seatrade Cruise Global: Best bits from day three

The State of the Industry debate has always been the headline act of Seatrade Cruise Global. ICFR's executive editor Jon Ingleton reviews some of the highlights

Seatrade Cruise Global: Best bits from day three
The Blue Eye lounge will be a big hit onboard Ponant's Explorer Class ships (Image: Stirling Design International)

Tuesday 6th March
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd’s chairman and CEO Richard Fain headlined SCG’s State of the Industry debate, alongside Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings; Arnold Donald, president and CEO of Carnival Corporation; and Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of MSC Cruises. The below collection of quotes provides a good insight into some of the topics covered: 

• “China is stable – it’s a work in progress, in many ways, a long-term investment,” said Del Rio
• “We’re good partners,” said Del Rio
• “Our industry is known for the disruption it causes. We probably need to move on from the thought that they [the general public] don’t understand us. They probably do,” said Fain
• “2018 looks like another great year. But we’re not resting on our laurels. We look less relaxed than a year ago because we see the opportunities,” said Fain • “We have resisted the urge to homogenise ourselves,” said Fain
• “We like to make any place that we touch better than it was before we touched it,” said Donald
• “We’re connected to every intelligence agency and every law enforcement agency in the world,” said Donald
• “24/7 we have ships in every time zone, so many complexities,” said Vago
• “We have an industry that is supply drive. All the yards are full,” said Vago

The second part of the industry debate gave the stage to two big brands who are both newcomers to the cruise industry, Virgin Voyages and The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection. Virgin’s president and CEO Tom McAlpin and Ritz-Carlton CEO Douglas Prothero are both classy ambassadors for their brands and will make a significant contribution to future industry discussions as they did at SCG in Fort Lauderdale. New brands will bring new guests to cruising and with satisfaction rates likely to be high for these lines, repeat rates will be good and these first-time cruisers will likely try other cruise brands. Hence, both Virgin’s and Ritz-Carlton’s entry into this market will be eagerly observed from all sides.

For 11 years, Seabourn’s director of deployment and itinerary planning Timothy Littley and his friends have been holding the increasingly popular Planners Lunch. Hosted this year by Cruise Port Rotterdam, the lunch gave more than 90 itinerary planners, port operations executives and strategists the opportunity to network, share knowledge and wisdom among peers. This isn’t a commercial event, but tradition gives the host a microphone (for just five minutes) and the eloquent Mai Elmar, director of Cruise Port Rotterdam, provided an appropriate introduction. Elmar’s references to Rotterdam were few; instead she chose to let a small and neat Top 10 card at each place to remind attendees why the city is an appealing port of call. Like Elmar, Crystal Cruises’ director of market planning Scott Kibota was fine company over lunch and provided good inspiration for a couple of story angles for our September issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review.

Next up was the first cruise line press conference of the show. Crystal Cruises’ president and CEO Tom Wolber proudly shared two big interior stories. Crystal Serenity is booked in for a three-week drydock in October to elevate her interiors to the standard achieved on Crystal Symphony. Wolber commented on the company’s strategy to maintain the appeal and relevance of each ship in the fleet, saying: “We will continue to invest in their success and with an eye to innovation and a design aesthetic that is pleasing to our guests of today and tomorrow.”

More eagerly anticipated by was the preview of Crystal Endeavor’s interiors. As the Crystal Cruises’ first expedition ship, the market has been intrigued to see how this classy operator interprets the design expectations of its passengers in what has historically been a rugged maritime voyage. Wolber’s response was perfectly in tune with the animation. He said: “Our guests will enjoy a truly unforgettable adventure onboard Crystal Endeavor, without sacrificing the standard of excellence and luxury of the Crystal brand that they know and love.”

Cunard followed, with chief strategy officer and senior vice president Josh Leibowitz in typically charming form. This press conference was a “banner year of growth” conversation, with Leibowitz sharing personal anecdotes and encouraging audience participation. Such is the personality of the man that he can command a room full of hungry press corps without sharing much news. Perhaps the most intriguing segue was the speculation about the name of the fourth queen – surely Queen Anne? But this was a clear reminder, if one was needed, that Cunard is a unique brand in the industry that plays heavily on its iconic transatlantic crossing history.

The MedCruise annual statistics always provide a timely insight into industry performance and the new secretary general Jordi Caballe and new president Airam Diaz Pastor greeted a full room. The diverse combination of destinations that comprise the Mediterranean, Adriatic and Black Sea cruise scene highlight the challenges and opportunities that confront communities seeking to win cruise business. This session is a statistician’s delight with numbers and analysis dominating proceedings. Personally, I’m particularly attentive to the biggest climbers in calls and passenger numbers. From 2016 to 2017 the biggest growth in passengers was achieved by, in order of percentage growth, Brindisi (1967%), Tarragona (267%), Sibenik (126%), Sète (99%) and Costa Brava cruise ports (77%). Number geeks like me should read the full report.

Staying in the Mediterranean, the Turkish press is reporting on a “return to the good old days” for cruising to Turkey following productive meetings at Seatrade. According to Hürriyet Daily News, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Holland America Line and others are heading back to Turkey, some with limited calls in 2018, but the site’s sources are predicting business ramping up year-on-year until 2020. The country’s ports have been professional and patient throughout these difficult times and the industry will cheer at the prospect of normal business being restored, likewise the wider region which relies on Istanbul.

The Ponant press conference filled the room to capacity as eager journalists heard about the company’s extraordinary growth, including an order for a further two ships in the company’s Explorer series. But the appeal of this press conference was enhanced by CEO Jean-Emmanuel Sauvee’s first visit to Seatrade Cruise Global. Clarifying his company’s values, Sauvee said: “enrichment and innovation is our raison d’etre.”

The first of the six Explorer ships, due to be delivered this June, will fulfil this mission and Sauvee is confident that the series will cement Ponant’s market position. “We are the world leader in luxury expedition,” he said. If you’ve not seen it yet, the Blue Eye lounge will be a big hit onboard these explorer ships.

A welcome break was provided at the Viking reception courtesy of Cruise Copenhagen and a good opportunity to catch up on local news from director Claus Bødker, the Baltic oracle.

It’s a fair assumption that when a relatively small company creates a big buzz in an innovation-rich industry it’s worth paying attention. Half an hour in the company of Johan Backas, managing director of Eniram, was an education. In essence, Eniram’s solution set uses vessel data, vibration sound waves and third-party information to collect intelligence for operational optimisation. Very bright people (the company’s core competency is mathematical modelling) can be intimidating, but Backas has an easy manner and was happily walked this luddite through the technicalities of its new mobile offer. “Our mobile solution allows cruise lines to send customised notifications to team members, getting better information to decision-makers faster,” he said.

But it’s not just the provision of information that makes Eniram’s offer quite so special; it’s the combined predictive analysis, benchmarking, insights and guided decision making that sets this system apart. This really is clever kit built by very smart people. Eniram Mobile is valuable addition to the suite, but the core technology behind Eniram Insight Factory is the justification for the buzz and the guaranteed fuel savings sufficient rationale to explore further.

Atout France presented the country’s cruise ports and destinations, spanning the Mediterranean and Atlantic Seas, Pacific and Indian Oceans as well as the French Caribbean – 95 ports in total. Mirroring the growth reported by Cruise Europe and MedCruise, French port passenger numbers grew by 3.5% in 2017 compared to 2016. Perhaps most noticeably was the increase in calls for Corsica, up 79% to 131 last year. Noteworthy Le Havre has capitalised on the investment legacy of its 500th anniversary and the French city now offers much more than just easy access to Paris. The city has become a very popular destination on its own merit as I witnessed myself on a visit last year. From a shorex perspective, cruise lines will appreciate that a visit to Le Havre is much improved by a guided tour with countless combinations to appeal equally to new and repeat visitors.

Later, a short(ish) stroll to the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel for the Grand Bahama Shipyard cocktail party to enjoy a drink or two in good company made for a cheerful end to a busy day. 2017 was another great year for the yard with 23 cruise ship drydock projects completed and 2018 is tipped to be a record-breaker.

Read ICFR's highlights from the first and second days of SCG, as well as the best bits from the fourth and fifth days. 

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Jon Ingleton
By Jon Ingleton
14 March 2018

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